Brazil: Prison Improvement Project

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Start date: 
Friday, December 13, 2002
End date: 
Wednesday, July 5, 2006

In December 2002, following the election of new government, ICPS accepted an invitation to become involved in a project to improve the performance of prison managers in the state of Sao Paulo in implementing the international standards on human rights for prisoners and staff. The project was sponsored by the Ministry of Justice and other partners working with ICPS were the Centre for the Study of Public Security and Citizenship based in Rio de Janeiro and the Centre for Comparative Criminology and Criminal Justice from the University of Wales. The project was funded by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

The project began with a series of workshops in Sao Paolo which were attended by representatives from prisons, the state headquarters and the staff training school in Sao Paulo, representatives from non governmental organisations, and a representative from the National Penitentiary Department in Brasilia. The prison authorities chose four prisons as pilots for the project. In the course of a second workshop the participants developed a tool for evaluating prison conditions based on international standards and went on to apply this in each of the four pilot prisons. The outcomes of the evaluations were incorporated into strategic plans developed by managers of the four prisons and other participants from the training in the course of a third workshop. A further two workshops concentrated on specific topics which had been identified by the group. In the course of the year the Director of Prisons for Sao Paolo, Dr Nagashi Furukawa, visited the UK for discussions about the future of the project.

In September 2003 the National Penitentiary Department hosted a seminar in Brasilia for all the directors of the state prison administrations to present to them the details of the project in Sao Paulo State. Following from this, discussions began about the possibility of rolling out the programme to a number of other states.

Following the five workshops which took place in 2002/3, a further three workshops were delivered in 2004. The first two concentrated on developing the management skills of the participants to help them to deliver the changes required within the Sao Paulo Prison Administration (SAP) and their prisons to implement the international human rights standards on which the previous workshops had concentrated. During the course of 2004, senior managers of SAP were increasingly integrated into the Project. Dr Nagashi Furukawa, the Head of SAP continued personally to champion the aims of the project and members of his senior staff became regular contributors and participants in the work of the project, as was the head of the staff training school.

In 2003 there was a national launch in Brasilia of the Portuguese version of the handbook A Human Rights Approach to Prison Management and 40,000 copies were distributed into all states in the country. In March 2004 there was a formal regional launch of the handbook in Sao Paulo, chaired by the State Secretary for Justice

In May 2004 several of the senior staff involved in the project in Sao Paulo visited the United Kingdom, accompanied by a representative from the federal prison administration and a representative from the State of Paraná for a comparative study of prison administration.

The final activity of the first phase was a further peer evaluation exercise in which representatives from the four participating prisons visited each other’s prisons to assess the changes which had taken place. Despite a background of increased overcrowding and a serious riot in one of the prisons involved, there was recorded evidence of significant improvement in a number of areas. These included a new kitchen and a new workshop in one prison and a workshop in a second prison; staff training and improved staff communication systems introduced in two prisons; NGOs introduced in the semi open prison to expand education classes; improved and more sensitive searching methods for visitors. The second evaluation also confirmed that there is still significant room for improvement and that changing behaviour and attitude is far more difficult than short term physical changes. It reinforced the learning that strategic planning and constant monitoring of performance is essential to long term change.

Phase 2

Work continued in the second phase of the project. By the end of 2005 the project was increasing in scope and beginning to work with 32 prisons in the state of Sao Paulo. Rather than providing the management development course themselves the ICPS consultants worked with trainers from the Secretaria da Administração Penitenciária (SAP) to train a further group of staff as ‘multipliers’ of the project. The head of the prison system in the State declared his intention to establish prison improvement offices in each of the five Area Co-ordinators Offices. These developments gave a boost to the capacity of the project to deliver change, but an overall strategy for the state remained elusive. It became apparent that a further phase for the project would be required before the improvement process could be fully embedded in the SAP Headquarters.

The extension of the project into a second phase also allowed the inclusion of two further states, Rondonia and Espirito Santo, within the prison improvement project. Each state agreed to work with three or four additional prisons. The states chosen were small, but faced major problems of order and control in their prisons. Rondonia and Espirito Santo were keen to benefit from the project and have managed to make a full commitment to the project benefiting from the resources made available from the federal centre (DEPEN).

During 2006, the training in the final modules of the Prison Improvement course was completed in the states of Rondonia, Espirito Santo and São Paulo and left each of the three States with a core group of staff trained in all areas of the project to act as multipliers in their own states and as a resource to the federal headquarters. The Training School in São Paulo had absorbed the Human Rights Approach to Prison Management into its overall curriculum.

The serious prison and community riots in the spring of 2006 impacted on the progress of the work in São Paulo where a new administration suspended the work of the project. However, in the States of Rondonia and Espirito Santo the work of the project was perceived as giving a structure to resolving the problems and crises in the prisons. The ICPS Consultants and the Project teams worked closely to help the State administration develop a more strategic approach, and in Rondonia the Secretary presented a strategic plan for prison improvement to the Governor which was based on the work of the Project.

The project concluded in 2006. In recognition of the work, Professor Coyle and Baroness Stern were presented to the President of Brazil during his State visit to the UK.

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