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Stonehill College

Publication Date

Fall 2014

Program Name

Brazil: Public Health, Race, and Human Rights


Brazil has a reputation of being home to some of the worst penitentiary conditions worldwide, eventually leading the United Nations to make an appeal to the Brazilian government in 2003 to analyze their systems and make necessary improvements. The poor conditions and lack of access to legal counsel, living space, and specifically healthcare, cause riots and uprisings within prisons that in the past have lead to death of prisoners and guards. Prisons serve a very specific purpose in society, and according to most social theorists that is to reform, not to torture. In Brazil there is no capital punishment, so in most cases the intention is that the prisoner will be assimilated back into society at a certain point. Once the incarcerated persons who were deprived of their liberty have entered back into their communities, there is an inherent impact of what healthcare they did or did not receive while in the penitentiary unit, therefore creating a communal concern for all contacts of that individual and enforcing that prison health is a public health issue. This investigation aimed to understand how the healthcare is provided to prisoners, what the level of access is, and what is denied to the prisoners based on their stigmatized status.

This research provides three points of view through 9 interviews to answer these questions with workers of the Penitenciária Lemos Brito in Salvador, Bahia; a family member of a prisoner from São Paulo, and participant observation of various prisoners in the Centro Médico of Bahia State Penitentiary. While the focus of the research was the medical care provided and available to the prisoners, many other concerns within the system were unearthed related to human rights. The family member interviewee and my interpretation of the observations I made, tell a different story than the one recounted by some of the workers inside the system. However, a clear sentiment is that the healthcare available is truly only basic, not frequent enough, and is severely lacking in financial support and resources. While the concerns about healthcare were obvious, the primary human rights infringement encountered was the overall institutional racism of the Brazilian penal system, thus leading to a lack of re-socialization initiatives and ignorance of this marginalized group in sectors of employment, education, and healthcare in and out of the system.


Civil Rights and Discrimination | Criminal Law | Criminal Procedure | Health Law and Policy | Health Policy | Human Rights Law | Latin American Studies | Law | Social Policy


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