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I. Summary

They talk about socio-educational measures, but this has nothing to do with education.
—Miguel L., age twenty-one, Instituto Padre Severino
Those places [the juvenile detention centers] are real dungeons.  Anyone [can] go to the Educandário Santo Expedito or to Padre Severino and see for themselves.  Those institutions don’t fulfill their socio-educational function, they reproduce a prison subculture that condemns officials and youths to physical, mental, and moral suffering, and even promotes crime.  To fight against this sad situation is to fight for the end of violence and for compliance with the Statute of the Child and the Adolescent.
—Maria Helena Zamora, letter to the editor, Jornal do Brasil (Rio de Janeiro), September 25, 2003.

Juvenile detention centers in Rio de Janeiro are overcrowded, filthy, and violent, failing in virtually every respect to safeguard youths’ basic human rights.  Beatings at the hands of guards are common.  “They beat us for any reason,” said Dário P., an eighteen-year-old in the Centro de Atendimento Intensivo-Belford Roxo (known as CAI-Baixada).  “They’ll come into the cells, and that’s where they’ll beat us.”  He told us that guards hit him hard enough to leave him with a bloody mouth; once, he said, they hit him in the genitals.  “They’ll call out your cell numbers—four, five, six!—and we have to undress [to be searched], and if we don’t, they beat us.”1

With some 15 million inhabitants, the state of Rio de Janeiro is larger in population than thirteen Latin American countries.  The city of the same name evokes iconic images of the white sands of Ipanema’s beach, the gondola to Sugarloaf Mountain, and the outstretched arms of the statute of Christ overlooking the southern part of the metropolis.  Rio de Janeiro is also the setting for brutal killings of street children (one infamous case in 1993 took place in the shadow of the Candelária church in the city center), armed violence among rival drug gangs and police, and, as this report documents, the routine detention of youths in cruel and degrading conditions.

Brazil’s national juvenile justice law, contained in the Statute of the Child and the Adolescent (Estatuto da Criança e do Adolescente), is among the most progressive in Latin America.  The statute guarantees youths in detention the right to treatment with respect and dignity, the right to be housed in conditions that meet an adequate standard of health and hygiene, the right to receive weekly visits, and the right to education and vocational training, among other rights.  The state’s Department of Socio-Educational Action (Departamento Geral de Ações Sócio-Educativas, DEGASE), a branch of the state justice secretariat, is the authority responsible for maintaining Rio de Janeiro’s juvenile detention centers in conformity with the statute and in a manner that is consistent with international standards.

In fact, DEGASE runs a juvenile detention system that is grossly deficient.  Noting that many states are not yet in compliance with the statute, Nilmário Miranda, Brazil’s special secretary for human rights, told Human Rights Watch, “The implementation of the Statute of the Child and the Adolescent is still underway, and DEGASE is the most serious case.”  Referring to SÃo Paulo’s infamous juvenile detention system, run by the state Foundation for the Well-Being of Minors (FundaçÃo Estadual do Bem-Estar do Menor, FEBEM), he said, “Before [the worst] was FEBEM in SÃo Paulo, but today it is DEGASE.”2

Human Rights Watch visited five detention centers in Rio de Janeiro in July and August 2003.  One of these facilities, the Instituto Padre Severino, is technically a pretrial detention center for boys, although it held sentenced youths as well when our researchers inspected it.  A second, the Educandário Santos Dumont, houses girls who have been sentenced as well as those in pretrial detention.  The three remaining facilities, CAI-Baixada, the Educandário Santo Expedito, and the Escola JoÃo Luis Alves, are exclusively for sentenced youths.

In addition to beatings and frequent verbal abuse, Human Rights Watch found that youths in many of these detention centers are locked in their cells for one to two weeks at a time as punishment for possession of contraband and other offenses that detention center officials consider severe.  The determination is solely at the guards’ discretion; there is no hearing, no right to appeal, and apparently no guidelines for guards to follow in meting out punishment.  “Due process is nothing,” the stepfather of a sixteen-year-old in detention told Human Rights Watch.3  For lesser offenses—getting out of line, taking food out of the dining hall, or talking during a meal—youths often have to stand or sit in uncomfortable positions for hours at a time.

In spite of the commonplace nature of physical abuse, particularly in the Padre Severino, CAI-Baixada, and Santo Expedito boys’ detention centers, most complaints are never investigated by DEGASE.  No guard has ever been sanctioned for abusive conduct.  One parent of a youth in detention highlighted the disparity between the treatment accorded to youths who resort to violence and that given to guards who engage in similar behavior, asking, “When the kids hit a guard, they take him to the police station.  Why don’t they do the same with the guards who beat our kids?”4

Over one-third of youths arrested in the state of Rio de Janeiro are charged with drug offenses, including drug trafficking.  Youths are increasingly involved in the illicit drug trade, and their involvement begins at earlier ages, recent studies have concluded.  The use of children under the age of eighteen “for the production and trafficking of drugs” and other illicit activities is unequivocally recognized as one of the worst forms of child labor, meaning that youth involvement in drug trafficking is both a juvenile justice issue and a child labor concern.  Strategies to reduce youth involvement in drug trafficking include improving children’s access to education, reducing the role of the drug gangs in their lives, providing them with vocational training, and working with employers to develop job programs that give them real alternatives to involvement in the drug trade.  If Rio de Janeiro’s juvenile detention centers were fulfilling their “socio-educational” mission, they would make efforts to address youth involvement in drug trafficking through rehabilitation programs, in line with a key purpose of the juvenile justice system.

But many of the youths in CAI-Baixada, Padre Severino, and Santo Expedito receive no education whatsoever, in violation of their rights under the Brazilian Constitution and international law.  Nor were they receiving vocational training, the rehabilitative service that youths and their parents most often identified as one of their top priorities. “I would give them [professional] courses in there, something to give them an opportunity when they leave.  On the street, they’ll need a lot.  What is the opportunity for employment out there?  They need some services, some sort of courses,” the mother of a seventeen-year-old in Santo Expedito told us.5

The state’s juvenile detention centers do not meet basic standards of health and hygiene.  Youths often wear the same clothes for three weeks before they are laundered.  Many share tattered foam mattresses; others sleep on the floor.  At night, they must defecate and urinate in plastic jugs because guards will not let them out of their cells to use the toilets.  They may not be able to bathe for several days at a time, either because the guards do not allow them to use the showers or because of a lack of running water.  Youths in most facilities must depend on their family members to bring them soap, toothpaste, and toilet paper; those who do not have visitors must do without these necessities.

These problems are compounded by the cavalier attitude of many detention center officials, starting with the system’s director.  “There is a lot less in these children’s houses,” DEGASE director general Dr. Sérgio Novo said, telling us that Rio’s detention centers were cleaner than many of their homes.6

As an indication of the lack of cleanliness in Rio de Janeiro’s detention centers, youths and staff must endure periodic outbreaks of scabies, a contagious parasitic disease easily transmitted in the overcrowded and unhygienic conditions found in most facilities.  Detention centers do not treat youths who contract scabies, increasing the likelihood that it will spread throughout the detainee population.  Human Rights Watch wrote to the governor of Rio de Janeiro state in August 2003, urging her to direct DEGASE and the state Secretariat of Health to take immediate steps to provide adequate medical treatment to detained youths suffering from scabies.7  As of this writing, we have not received a response.  The consequence of such conditions in Rio de Janeiro’s detention centers and inaction on the part of its public officials is that “scabies is a problem in all of the facilities in the system,” as one public defender told Human Rights Watch.8

*    *    *

This report is based on a two-week fact-finding mission in Rio de Janeiro in July and August 2003, as well as additional information gathered by our researchers between August 2003 and November 2004.  During the fact-finding mission, our researchers visited five juvenile detention centers in the state, including the state’s only detention center for girls, and conducted private interviews with fifty-three youths, six of whom were girls.  Our researchers were able to take photographs in every facility.

This is the seventeenth Human Rights Watch report on juvenile justice and the conditions of confinement for children.  In the Americas, Human Rights Watch has investigated and reported on juvenile justice issues in Brazil, Guatemala, Jamaica, and the U.S. states of Colorado, Louisiana, Georgia, and Maryland.  Elsewhere in the world, Human Rights Watch has documented detention conditions for children in Bulgaria, Egypt, India, Kenya, Northern Ireland, Pakistan, and Turkey.  In addition, Human Rights Watch has published a book-length report on conditions in Brazil’s adult prisons, one of at least thirty reports in a series on prison conditions in countries around the world.9

Prisons, jails, police lockups, and other places of detention pose special research problems because detainees, especially children, are vulnerable to intimidation and retaliation.  In the interests of accuracy and objectivity, Human Rights Watch bases its reporting on firsthand observation of detention conditions and direct interviews with detainees and officials.  Following a set of self-imposed rules in conducting investigations, Human Rights Watch undertakes visits only when our researchers, not the authorities, can choose the institutions to be visited, when they can be confident that they will be allowed to talk privately with the detainees of their choice, and when they can gain access to the entire facility to be examined.  These rules ensure that our investigators are not shown “model” detention centers, “model” inmates, or the most presentable parts of the facilities under investigation.  In the rare cases in which entry on these terms is denied, Human Rights Watch may conduct its investigations on the basis of interviews with former detainees, relatives of detainees, lawyers, prison experts, and detention center staff, as well as a review of documentary evidence.

Human Rights Watch takes particular care to ensure that interviews of children are confidential, conducted with sensitivity, and free from any actual or apparent outside influence.  It does not print the names or other identifying information of the children in detention whom researchers interview.  In this report, all children are given aliases to protect their privacy and safety.

Human Rights Watch assesses the treatment of children according to international law, as set forth in the Convention on the Rights of the Child; the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; and other international human rights instruments.  The U.N. Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice, the U.N. Rules for the Protection of Juveniles Deprived of their Liberty, and the U.N. Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners provide authoritative guidance on the content of international obligations in detention settings.

In this report, the word “child” refers to anyone under the age of eighteen.  The Convention on the Rights of the Child defines as a child “every human being below the age of eighteen years unless, under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier.”10  This use differs from the definition of “child” in Brazil’s juvenile justice law, which makes a distinction between persons under the age of twelve (who are considered “children”) and those between twelve and seventeen years of age (“adolescents”).  For this reason, and because Brazil’s juvenile detention center may hold both adolescents and young adults between up to the age of twenty-one, this report uses the term “youth” to refer to any person between age twelve and twenty-one.11

[1] Human Rights Watch interview with Dário P., Centro de Atendimento Intensivo-Belford Roxo (CAI-Baixada), Rio de Janeiro, July 28, 2003.

[2] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Dr. Nilmário Miranda, special secretary for human rights, April 27, 2004.

[3] Human Rights Watch interview with stepfather of youth in detention, Rio de Janeiro, August 1, 2003.

[4] Human Rights Watch interview with father of youth in detention, Rio de Janeiro, August 1, 2003.

[5] Human Rights Watch interview with mother of youth in detention, Rio de Janeiro, August 1, 2003.

[6] Human Rights Watch interview with Dr. Sérgio Novo, director general, Departamento Geral de Ações Sócio-Educativas, Rio de Janeiro, July  31, 2003.

[7] See Letter from Michael Bochenek, counsel, Children’s Rights Division, Human Rights Watch, to Exma. Sra. Rosângela Rosinha Garotinho Barros Assed Matheus de Oliveira, governor, State of Rio de Janeiro, August 11, 2003 (reprinted as Appendix B).

[8] Human Rights Watch interview with public defender, Rio de Janeiro, July 28, 2003.

[9] See Human Rights Watch, Behind Bars in Brazil (New York:  Human Rights Watch, 1998).

[10] Convention on the Rights of the Child, art. 1, adopted November 20, 1989, 1577 U.N.T.S. 3 (entered into force September 2, 1990).  Brazil ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child on September 24, 1990.

[11] See Estatuto da Criança e do Adolescente, Law No. 8,069 of July 13, 1990, arts. 2, 121.  See generally chapter III, “The Statute of the Child and Adolescent” section.

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