Director of ICPR’s World Prison Research Programme briefs Brazilian fact-checking website on latest prisons data

28 Feb 2020

On 15 February the Brazilian Minister of Justice and Public Security, Sérgio Fernando Moro, claimed on Twitter that there is no excessive use of pre-trial detention in Brazil. “There are about 33% of pre-trial detainees, that is, prisoners without trial. Brazil has fewer pre-trial detainees than Monaco (56.3%), Switzerland (42.2%), Canada (38.7%), Belgium (35.6%) and Denmark (35.5%), for example. There is no excess of pre-trial detention in Brazil.” Mr Moro’s tweet came to the attention of Brazilian fact-checking site Aos Fatos, which asked Catherine Heard (Director of ICPR’s World Prison Research Programme) to comment. Following Catherine’s briefing, Aos Fatos published an article providing further context for Mr Moro’s tweet.

The figures Mr Moro cites are taken from ICPR’s World Prison Brief, a unique database that provides free access to information about prison systems throughout the world. The Aos Fatos piece explains that the proportion of pre-trial detainees should not be used as the only measure to assess whether there is excessive pre-trial imprisonment because many other factors need to be taken into consideration. For example, the number of foreigners in a country’s criminal justice statistics can result in higher percentages of pre-trial prisoners. Monaco, one of the countries cited by the Minister, has only 32 prisoners, all of whom are foreign nationals who are more likely to be detained while awaiting trial. In Brazil only 0.3% of prisoners are foreign nationals.

Catherine explained that a more appropriate measure is the rate of pre-trial prisoners per 100,000 of the national population. Using this measure, the comparison of Brazil with the same countries mentioned by Moro is unfavourable - it has far higher rates than any of them.

The article also uses World Prison Brief data to explain that since 2000, the rate of pre-trial detainees in Brazil per 100,000 has more than doubled, jumping from 46 to 115 in 2019. It also notes that the total number of pre-trial detainees in the country has grown by 643% since 1994, citing ICPR’s recent comparative report, Pre-trial detention and its over-use: Evidence from ten countries, which shows that this is the largest increase registered in the ten countries ICPR has studied.

Catherine also referred to time spent in pre-trial detention as another key measure for assessing whether there is excessive pre-trial detention in a country. The article cites a survey by Brazil’s CNJ (National Council of Justice) which shows that the average time spent in pre-trial detention in Brazilian states ranges from 172 days (in Rondônia) to 974 days (in Pernambuco) - an unweighted average of 367 days - and that 29% of the country's pre-trial detainees spend more than 180 days in jail before receiving a sentence. In the European Union , the average is 165 days and in the USA , 68 days.

The article carried this quote from Catherine: "When the excessive use of pre-trial detention disproportionately affects poorer communities and marginalized individuals, as is the case in Brazil and several other countries we studied, there is a damage to the social fabric that is difficult to repair.”

The full article can be read here