This briefing paper analyses the impact of drug policy on incarceration in São Paulo (Brazil). This research is expected to inform and assess some of the consequences of the current Brazilian drug policy, taking into account its impacts on prisoners’rights and on the criminal justice system as a whole.
The Organization of American States' (OAS) latest drug consumption report highlights shifting trends in drug use among youths in the Western Hemisphere. One noteworthy trend is changing cocaine consumption among high school students in South America, when compared to the United States -- the region's largest overall drug consumer. While cocaine use among US high school students has declined since peaking in 1998, consumption in South America has increased, most notably in Argentina and Uruguay, and less so in other nations like Chile and Brazil.
While Brazil has the dubious honor of having the highest homicide rate in the world – with 56,337 killings reported in 2013 – Rio has the most number of murders committed by police than any other Brazilian state. The mayor points to the widely held belief in the city that successful drug traffickers need to control a territory. "There is cocaine and marijuana in every western capital. But that crazy idea of thinking that traffickers need to dominate an area is one of our peculiarities [...]."
Authorities say crack use has dropped 80 percent in São Paulo's notorious "Crackland" district since the implementation of With Open Arms ("De Braços Abertos"), a government-sponsored drug treatment program initiated in January 2014, reported a municipal government office in São Paulo. But there are reasons to doubt the initiative's reported success.
Despite efforts by governments in Latin America, illicit drugs continue to provide one of the largest incomes for criminal organizations, enabling them to penetrate and corrupt political and social institutions.
On a mild winter morning in São Paulo, two dozen people pick up brooms and rubbish bins from a warehouse. They wear blue jumpsuits with a De Braços Abertos (With Open Arms) logo, referring to a controversial new programme for crack cocaine addicts, and set off to sweep streets in the city centre.
Vera da Ros (Rede Brasileira de Redução de Danos e Direitos Humanos - REDUC)
17 Julio 2014
The IV Symposium on Medicinal Cannabis in Brazil focused on patients who need treatment via medicinal cannabis and its components. Today, these patients struggle with access to such treatment, mainly due to bureaucracy. The event undoubtedly generated attitudes in favor of medical marijuana in the country. However, and unfortunately, less than 10 days after the event ended, National Health Surveillance Agency (ANVISA) postponed a vote for the reclassification of cannabis.
The Research Consortium on Drugs and the Law (CEDD)
09 Julio 2014
The Research Consortium on Drugs and the Law (Colectivo de Estudios Drogas y Derecho, CEDD) has published a new study that assesses state responses to illicitly-used drugs in eight countries in Latin America: Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru and Uruguay. The study found that Latin American governments’ approach to drug use continues to be predominantly through the criminal justice system, not health institutions. Even in countries where consumption is not a crime, persistent criminalization of drug users is common.
Latin America is now at the vanguard of international efforts to promote drug policy reform: Bolivia has rewritten its constitution to recognize the right to use the coca leaf for traditional and legal purposes, Uruguay has become the first nation in the world to adopt a legal, regulated Cannabis market, and Colombia, Mexico, Guatemala, and Ecuador are openly critiquing the prevailing international drug control paradigm at the UN. And now with the United States itself relaxing its marijuana laws state by state, the U.S. prohibitionist drug war strategies are losing credibility in the region.
São Paulo's Cracolândia has been here for 15 years. Its population hovered around 1,500. The city recently took over a collection of flophouses around Cracolândia – businesses whose clientele had fled along with most regular commerce in the neighbourhood – and set 400 addicts up in long-term accommodation. They also pitched a big tent on the edge of the fluxo, the shifting mattress camp on the streetcorner where addicts squat, hung up the Braços Abertos (Open Arms) banner and deployed an army of social workers
Homicides have fallen 65 percent in the Rio de Janeiro favelas where Police Pacification Units have been installed during four years of the flagship scheme -- an impressive figure, but one that could just indicate a displacement of violence to other regions. A study by Rio's Public Security Institute (ISP) looked at 22 Rio neighborhoods where Police Pacification Units (UPPs) have been in operation for more than a year.
We, the undersigned human rights organizations, address you on this Fourth Meeting of Ministers Responsible for Public Security (MISPA) to follow up on the call upon governments to revise the orientation of drug policies that are being implemented in the Americas. This request for the governments took place during the 43rd Session of the OAS General Assembly which took place last June.
An average of five people were killed by police every day in Brazil last year, according to an annual security report, revealing an entrenched culture of violence within the country's security forces. Brazil's Forum of Public Security joined forces with US non-governmental organization (NGO) Open Society Foundations to conduct an in-depth study of police killings as part of its annual report, concluding that the country's security forces are beset by a "culture of violence."
Rio de Janeiro’s Pacification Police Units (UPP) are celebrating their fifth year in 2013. They do so with generally positive approval ratings from the media and society as a whole. A recent study by Instituto Data Favela indicates that 75% of favelas inhabitants approve of the UPPs. Notwithstanding major crises and criticism, the UPP constitute the single most important public security initiative in the state. And yet the persistent informality of the UPP may eventually undermine its sustainability. (See also: Rio slum pacification police accused of torture, murder)
Ten police in Rio de Janeiro have been charged with the torture and killing of a resident of the city's biggest favela in a case that has highlighted anger about extrajudicial killings. For more than two months, Amarildo de Souza was simply classified as "missing", but the suspicious circumstances of his disappearance and the notorious record of Rio's police sparked demonstrations that forced the authorities to respond.
Sao Paulo State expanded its attack on crack cocaine by unveiling a program that will provide about $650 a month in subsidies for the rehabilitation of addicts at private treatment centers. Governor Geraldo Alckmin said 1,350 reals will be earmarked monthly for each crack user who voluntarily enrolls in a rehabilitation program that is expected to get under way in 11 cities. The state will give the money to accredited rehabilitation centers when clients present a "Begin Again" card they receive after enrolling in a program.
With Brazil gripped by a crack epidemic, the authorities have launched a series of controversial initiatives. Since the start of last year, São Paulo has introduced street clearance operations by police, increased funds for rehabilitation centres and, most recently, focused more on judicial intervention and involuntary treatment. Critics argue that the policies are haphazard, shift with the political winds, often violate the rights of the users and may be driven by business demands to clean up a piece of potentially valuable land.
The mayor of Bogota has recently proposed a pilot scheme with crack cocaine addicts to explore the substitution of crack made of cocaine base paste (or bazuco as it is called in Colombia) by marijuana. The substitution treatment plan will include 15 problematic users from the marginalized Bronx area who are already receiving health assistance of the CAMAD operating in that sector of the city. The treatment will last approximately eight months, after which the results will be evaluated.
São Paulo’s Cracolândia was Brazil’s first and is still its biggest. It is home to 2,000 addicts. But most Brazilian cities now have similar districts. Recent studies put the country’s crack-using population at 1m-1.2m, the world’s largest. Some city governments have used strong-arm tactics against the crack epidemic—with little effect other than to fill prisons, which have more than twice as many inmates as a decade ago.