Home Institution

University of Denver

Publication Date

Fall 2015

Program Name

Brazil: Public Health, Race, and Human Rights


Illicit drug use remains a significant public health issue within in Brazil, and is only magnified in the state penitentiary system, where there is excessive over-crowding and a lack of resources to address this issue. The purpose of this investigation is to understand the context of drug use within the prison system as well as how is drug abuse treated by the professionals that work in Penitenciaria Lemos Brito and Cadeia Publica. Treating drug addiction is an important aspect of the inmate’s well-being as well as it’s impact on his re-integration back into society after his punishment is served. Therefore, providing support and treatment to these inmates for drug addiction is crucial for both life inside the prison and outside of the prison. Drug use is one one of the single biggest indicators for repeat crime offenders, particularly in Brazil, and in the context of Brazil’s health care policy drug addiction is considered a public health issue and thus of concern to society.

My methodology was constrained both by time and ethical limitations. 11 semi-structured interviews were performed with psychologists, psychiatrists, director of PLB, SEAP agents and social workers. With permission of present parties, I also observed interactions of psychologists, a psychiatrist, and social workers with the inmates to substantiate claims made during my interviews in the medical facilities of Penitenciaria Lemos Brito and Cadeia Publica.

From the answers to my interviews and observations, I was able to conclude that the treatment system is not particularly functional, and doesn't seem to address drug addiction in a long-lasting or effective manner, as available treatments outside of the prison system do. While there is therapy and anti-anxiety medicine offered, they seem to have little success in actually reducing the population of drug users within the prison system. I found that Cadeia Publica has greater success in addressing the drug problem than PLB does for reasons explored throughout the paper, and thus PLB should attempt to implement some of the methods of Cadeia Publica to improve the system.


Inequality and Stratification | Politics and Social Change | Substance Abuse and Addiction