Press Release

IACHR Dismayed over Frequent Deaths of Teenagers in Brazilian Detention Centers

June 27, 2018

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses its profound concern over the endless acts of violence and deaths in socio-educational centers for teenagers in Brazil’s criminal justice system. The information the Commission has received indicates that, in less than one month, at least 10 teenagers have died at one center in the state of Goiás, while another has died in the state of Ceará. These events join others of a similar nature that occurred in the first few months of 2018. The IACHR stresses its alarm over this situation and asks the Brazilian State to implement the recommendations the Commission issued during its November 2017 visit, in which it inspected how the National System of Socio-Educational Assistance (SINASE, by its Portuguese acronym) worked and highlighted serious structural flaws.

According to publicly available reports, a fire on May 25, 2018 at the Temporary Detention Center housed by the Seventh Military Police Battalion in Goiânia, in the state of Goiás, led to the deaths of 10 teenagers. According to the available information, teenagers allegedly set a mattress ablaze and the flames spread to the cell they were in. They were reportedly protesting over poor conditions at the facility, among others.

The Temporary Detention Center for teenagers in Goiânia has been open as a temporary facility on the premises of the Seventh Military Police Battalion since the 1970s, despite several complaints about the lack of appropriate conditions to house teenagers. In 2012, the Public Prosecutor’s Office found serious deficiencies and reached an agreement with state authorities for them to close the facility and replace it with more appropriate alternatives. Although works were in progress to meet the goal of closing the facility, the center remained active, even though Military Police Battalions must not house socio-educational centers. A report issued in December 2017 by the Goiás Court of Justice, through a Monitoring and Auditing Group for the Prison and Socio-Educational System, again alerted of the precarious and unhygienic conditions at that facility. That report concluded that the situation at the center did not grant inmates dignified and humane conditions. It also highlighted the problem of overcrowding, which precludes the separation of teenagers by age group and by the nature of their offenses, is not conducive to appropriate attention and promotes tensions and other forms of defenselessness.

According to the available information, when the fire happened, there were a total of 80 teenagers at the center, which reportedly only had a capacity for 52. The cell where the fire happened allegedly held 11 teenagers, although the IACHR has been told that cells only fit four.

State authorities have denied any deficiencies or overcrowding at this center, and they have said they will launch investigations to establish what happened and provide psychological assistance to the families of the victims. State authorities have further highlighted the financial investment they are making to open 10 new centers in Goiás and to speed up reforms expected to enable them to close facilities housed in Military Police pavilions.

On June 6, there was a clash among inmates – reportedly belonging to rival gangs – at the Centro Socioeducativo Cardeal Aloísio Losheider (Cecal) in Fortaleza, in the state of Ceará. During the dispute, several teenagers and socio-educational officers were attacked, in events that left one of the teenage inmates dead, a total of nine people injured and facilities damaged by a fire. This center houses teenagers and young adults up to the age of 21 who have been subjected to socio-educational measures. The authorities are investigating the events and providing psychological support to the families of the victims. In December 2017, another riot led to a fire at the same center.

In the state of Rio de Janeiro, on February 24, two teenagers died at the Centro Educandário Santo Expedito, apparently as a result of a clash among inmates. The Ombudsperson’s Office had alerted as early as 2005 about precarious and overcrowded facilities at that center, which started to be used temporarily in 1997 but remains open. The center is also adjacent to the adult Bangu Penitentiary Complex, which constitutes a violation of the law. According to publicly available reports, the center was built for a maximum of 220 teenagers but currently holds approximately 538. There are not enough social educators to assist inmates, which precludes the facility’s educational and social integration functions and promotes idleness and the emergence of tensions and violence. Recently, the Rio de Janeiro Court of Justice competent to assess the situation at this center banned the state from housing any more teenagers there and ruled that the facility must gradually be closed.      

The IACHR has repeatedly expressed its dismay over circumstances of this nature in teenage detention centers in Brazil, and it has noted that there is a widespread structural context of violence, riots, escapes, overcrowding, unhygienic facilities and lack of socio-educational programs at such centers in the country, among other human rights violations. The Commission has further expressed its concern over the fact that, when teenagers come into contact with the socio-educational assistance system, they are exposed to violations of their rights instead of getting a constructive and positive opportunity to rejoin society and to prevent recidivism, as required by Brazilian law.

The IACHR admits that, since it visited the country in November 2017, the authorities appear to have acknowledged those problems to some extent. The Commission encourages them to deepen ongoing improvements and reforms, but it generally continues to see little progress in the country, as well as limited commitment to making this issue an urgent priority, as requested by the IACHR. The Commission once again calls upon the Brazilian State to take into account the recommendations the IACHR made in its visit and to act in keeping with the commitments the State has made by ratifying applicable international human rights treaties.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence. 


No. 138/18