Wednesday, October 15, 2014

CCC Endorsements for the November Elections: Yes on 47 and Other Matters

After a bit of a hiatus, CCC is coming back with some election endorsements for Californians. In this endorsement list, I point out only issues that are particular to crime, law enforcement, and corrections; of course, your vote may be influenced by other matters as well.


State Measures

Yes on 47


Prop 47 would reduce sentencing. According to Ballotpedia, which faithfully summarizes the proposition's text, if it were to pass, it would:

  • Mandate misdemeanors instead of felonies for “non-serious, nonviolent crimes," unless the defendant has prior convictions for murder, rape, certain sex offenses or certain gun crimes. A list of crimes that would be affected by the penalty reduction are listed below.
  • Permit re-sentencing for anyone currently serving a prison sentence for any of the offenses that the initiative reduces to misdemeanors. About 10,000 inmates would be eligible for resentencing, according to Lenore Anderson of Californians for Safety and Justice.
  • Require a “thorough review” of criminal history and risk assessment of any individuals before re-sentencing to ensure that they do not pose a risk to the public.
  • Create a Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Fund. The fund would receive appropriations based on savings accrued by the state during the fiscal year, as compared to the previous fiscal year, due to the initiative’s implementation. Estimates range from $150 million to $250 million per year.
  • Distribute funds from the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Fund as follows: 25 percent to the Department of Education, 10 percent to the Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board and 65 percent to the Board of State and Community Correction.

Right now, there is about 60% support for Prop 47. As the Chronicle observes, it seems to be stirring little controversy, and for good reason: it makes sense. You'll note that this is a classic humonetarian proposal--let's not throw low-risk people in prison who shouldn't really be there in the first place, and we'll save millions doing so. The money is going to a fund that invests in education, victim compensation, and various therapeutic projects. The arguments against it can be easily dispensed with: it won't "release dangerous people", because it takes risk into account. It is supported, in grand Cheap on Crime fashion, by people from the left and the right alike, and by victims of crime, who would rather see energy spent on violent offenders. By all means, go ahead and vote YES on 47.

U.S. House

House Representative: Jackie Speier

Speier is one of my favorite politicians. Her work to prevent sexual assault in the military and on university campuses is admirable, as is her sensible approach to databases that would enable tracking down gun ownership. I should say, however, that if you're a Republican on other maters, you could do far worse than Robin Chew, who would work to reverse climate change and who believes in sensible regulatory reform.

California Supreme Court

Of the three Justices up for retention, I want to mention and support Goodwin Liu, with whom I've had a chance to exchange views on criminal justice matters, and who is a sensible and careful interpreter of the CA constitution.

State Executives

Governor: No Endorsement


The race is between incumbent Jerry Brown and libertarian Republican Neel Kashkari. Kashkari has no platform at all on public safety, criminal justice, or corrections, which is truly astonishing given the amount of time the Brown administration spent on these matters, and his focus on "jobs and education" doesn't seem to include the close connections between these topics and corrections. Obviously, we can't recommend him. On the other hand, Jerry Brown has maintained that the correctional problem in California has been solved, has fought the Plata order tooth and nail to the point of almost contempt of court, and has practically extorted federal judges into giving him two more years for depopulation under threat of heavy privatizing. Between a bad track record on corrections and no interest in the topic at all, I think it's a toss-up.

Lieutenant Governor: Gavin Newsom 


Yes, I know. Newsom is responsible for sit/lie in San Francisco. But do we really want Ron Nehring in the lieutenant governor's chair? He wants to repeal Realignment and build more prisons. It's a very antiquated and uninformed conservative position, one that most reasonable conservatives have already rejected. This one is a no-brainer.

California Attorney General: Kamala Harris, with Reservations


Having recently heard, with a heavy heart, about Harris' intent to appeal Jones v. Chappell for reasons that don't make any sense to me, and watched, with concern, her battle against truancy stigmatize kids and parents along the way, this one is not a no-brainer for me. The correlation between truancy and crime does not necessarily imply causation, and the cause of both--poverty and social neglect--is the one that should be addressed. This campaign is failing to excite voters, but I think it's for the opposite reasons to those the Gold campaign assumes. We're disappointed because we want Harris to be smarter on crime, not because we want Gold to be tough on crime. Gold supports legalization of recreational marijuana, but he is inexperienced and does not have thought-out policies on all the issues we are addressing. For what it's worth, he urged Harris to appeal Jones v. Chappell, so death penalty issues are a toss-up. There doesn't seem to be much of a platform for rehabilitation, though Harris can cite her collaboration with the Public Defender's office on Operation Clean Slate.

California Secretary of State: No Endorsement


With Leland Yee, who despite his alleged involvement in corrupted dealings was a big champion for juvenile delinquents in the State Assembly, out of the race, we're left with a choice between Alex Padilla and Pete Peterson. No one has asked them the important question--do they interpret the CA constitution as Debra Bowen did, to exclude Realigned felons doing time in jails as ineligible to vote? While both candidates speak about the need to improve civics education, Padilla seems to be more interested in actually reaching out to people to expand the vote, but Peterson has some good suggestions for increasing the vote via early voting and other options of convenience.

State Legislature: Notable Issues


Tom Ammiano is not running for reelection, and we thank him for his consistently incredible, sensible, and humane service to folks without voices and voting rights, including the thousands of people on solitary confinement. Neither in Nancy Skinner, who was an important voice for eliminating long-term solitary confinement. In District 17 (San Francisco) you'll have to pick between David Chiu and David Campos. People I respect support each of these candidates for good reasons. I'm leaning toward an endorsement of Campos, because of his important anti-gang work, but am open to hearing more.

***

If all you remember from this post is to vote YES on 47, I've done my job.



Wednesday, September 10, 2014

All Counties Committed to Enrolling Inmates in Health Care!

A new report by Californians for Safety and Justice and the Local Safety Solutions Project announces good news: pretty much all California counties are committed to enrolling their criminal justice populations in health care, and 70% of counties are actively doing so.


Where does the funding for this welcome activity come from?


This is excellent news. As we know, many formerly incarcerated people don't necessarily have the resources or know-how to deal with the intricacies of Obamacare and are walking out of jail systems whose health care services are sometimes truly deficient. This guarantees that, as people return to life on the outside, they'll be covered and protected.

Today at Noon, PST: Interview about Cheap on Crime on KPFA

Today at noon, PST, KPFA will air an hour-long interview I did with C.S. Soong from Against the Grain about my forthcoming book, Cheap on Crime. It was a great conversation. Here are some details on how to listen:
To Listen Live:
KPFA 94.1 FM in the Bay Area and beyond
KFCF 88.1 FM in Fresno and the Central Valley
Online, worldwide: http://www.kpfa.org.
To access the recording afterward:
http://www.againstthegrain.org/

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Nail Polish, or Why Left Realism Fights Rape Culture Better than Radical Demagogy

An interesting invention is making the rounds on social media website: four college students have invented nail polish that would allow its wearer, by inserting their finger into their drink, to detect whether a roofie--frequently used by rapists to overpower their victims--has been mixed into it. The company is called Undercover Colors.

This is a very practical, simple cautionary tool, and may help to spare many women, and some men, too, a traumatic and horrible experience. But the new invention has found some detractors, who in the name of radical feminism criticize the inventors as facilitating rape culture by placing the preventive responsibility onto the shoulders of the victims (see here and here.)

I'm sorry, I have to call bullshit when I see it. And this presumably feminist critique of prevention is grade-A bullshit.

It should probably go without saying that, like any decent human being on the planet, I am committed to ending rape culture, and that I believe that the fault for rape lies squarely on the shoulders of the rapist, which is why I really liked this campaign. Happily, evaluative research has found it to be effective in teaching men to be more respectful toward their partners.

But I get very, very upset when the people who purport to be fighting rape culture seem to be okay with not fighting rape itself, and especially with the radical demagogy that equates sensible self-protection with embracing rape culture.

Of course it is not the victim's responsibility to prevent crime. It is, of course, anyone's right to go anywhere they wish, wearing whatever they wish, without inviting physical or sexual assault. Nonetheless, we know that crime happens when there is opportunity, and many rapists are opportunists. And each of us takes preventive measures daily, to the extent that they are compatible with our lives and appreciation of freedom. We lock our house doors, we don't leave valuables in the car, we don't escalate arguments with angry drivers. And sometimes we make the choice not to engage in excessive self-protection, when we feel it infringes upon our lives too much, such as, for example, going out anywhere we wish, at any time of the day, wearing whatever we like. Doing so, of course, does not make us blameworthy if something bad happens to us. But taking measures that don't infringe upon that feeling of freedom has the potential of minimizing our odds of victimization, and doing that shouldn't make us blameworthy, either, for inventing such measures, using them, or recommending them to others.

The rhetoric against rape culture also pulls the rug under sensible and empowering acts like taking a self-defense class, even though we know that fighting back significantly reduces the odds of rape completion. Why, in the name of self righteousness and feminist idealism, would I deny myself, my family members and my friends the odds of survival and victory? How is this empowering? How is this preventing rape?

Moreover, as my friend and colleague Edi Kinney mentioned in a Facebook conversation about this:

[T]aking the opportunity to recenter discussions about rape culture to blame rapists is something activists have to do, but to me, we need to take advantage of allyship in its diverse forms and applaud practical efforts to engage in efforts to address sexual violence. What we've been doing hasn't worked. I think we should be emphasizing the fact that the men who developed the product were inspired to do because so many of their own friends had been drugged & sexually assaulted and they wanted to do something to empower their friends and other women w/ tools to identify risks. They apparently had scientific/lab/other expertise that they could deploy to that end, and were motivated to do so out of an effort to give women tools to help them protect themselves. IMHO, their allyship intentions -- AND the fact that bros who see social media accounts of this now might think twice re. engaging in predatory behavior at parties, bars, etc. -- trump the potential to reinforce 'blame the victim' rape culture. Rapists are opportunists, and I'd reckon there's a slippery slope between date rape and predatory behavior, and any tools to identify folks who engage in such behavior seems like a good start (and at least it's raising awareness?)

I think we have enough room for short-term and long-term strategies in the war against rape culture. In the long term, our commitment should be to eradicate it off the face of the earth. But in setting our sites on that and firing up our keyboards with feminist rhetoric, let's not forget that this thing we're fighting is not just an ideology. IT'S REAL AND IT'S VICTIMIZING WOMEN RIGHT NOW. And our first and foremost commitment to potential victims is to prevent their victimization as effectively and practically as possible, without stigmatizing them for it. Let's not lose sight of real rape when talking about the culture that produces it.


Saturday, August 30, 2014

A Jury Trial in Brazil


On September 3, 2008, Marcos Venicius Amon Barbosa finished his 48-hour shift at the shipyard. Before driving home, he stopped for a drink. Shortly after he resumed his trip, he ran a red light at an intersection in Vitoria, killing one woman and injuring eight more people.

Today, six years after the event, I attended his trial for vehicular manslaughter at the First Criminal Department of Vitoria. I was graciously invited by the prosecutor, Daniela Moysés, whom I had met the day before on our prison tour. Prior to her impressive legal career, Daniela had been a civil engineer, which requires five years of study in Brazil, and after a few years of working as the engineer of the court system she decided to change direction and studied law at UFES (another five years of education!). After passing a special competition for a prosecution position, she worked for several years in a rural area, and transferred to Vitoria as a special jury prosecutor.

In Brazil, jury trials are reserved only for crimes against life that involve criminal intent or recklessness. The state selects 25 people to serve on a jury, and they serve for two months. Every trial requires only seven jurors, which are elected from the 25-person panel by way of lottery. Employers have to eat up their employees’ two-month absence, even though they are unhappy about it. It is a big commitment, which is why Judge Victor Ribeiro Pimenta started the hearing by thanking everyone for their service.

At this point, after several weeks, the judge, the prosecutor, and the jurors know each other fairly well, and the judge told me that he tries to make it a positive experience for them even though the trials revolve around heavy matters. So, he joked with them a bit before the defendant was brought in.

Escorted by the military police, the defendant sat in front of the court on a chair with no table. His attorneys sat at a table to his left, requiring them to get up and approach him if they wanted to tell him something or confer with him. Today, he had three defense attorneys, all private, to speak on his behalf.

Then, the judge ran the lottery. He put labels with the jurors' names in a special box, shook it, and removed labels one by one.
For each juror who was selected, the judge asked the defense attorney and the prosecutor if they had any objections. Each side gets three strikes, all peremptory, and they don’t need to offer an explanation. The prosecutor objected once, to a man whom she and the other prosecutors had seen falling asleep at the trials. I asked whether the challenges are sometimes used strategically. Daniela said that, in a drunk driving case, she preferred female jurors, whom she felt would be less sympathetic to a drinking man then male jurors. She got four women and three men. As each newly selected jurors stepped to the jury box—two rows of chairs behind tables—they wore black robes. The judge then announced the “jury winner”—the juror whose number had come up most frequently in the history of that particular panel—and awarded her a box of chocolates as gratitude for her service.
Everyone smiled and clapped. It was a nice, warm gesture to alleviate the stress and gravity of the trial to follow, and was very characteristic of the way Judge Pimenta runs his courtroom, always adding a smile and levity to the situation. Of course, the only person not laughing was the defendant, and conscious of his anxiety, Daniela muted her reaction to the joviality. Judge Pimenta swore the jurors one by one.

From the moment of selection, the jurors are prohibited from communicating with each other about the case. Deliberations are forbidden, and each juror votes secretly according to his or her own conscience.

Prior to the jury selection, the prosecution and defense conferred briefly on testimonies. Out of the eight surviving victims, four showed up for the trial. One of them testified that the traffic light was yellow when the defendant’s vehicle entered the crosswalk. The defense wanted that victim to testify. However, said the judge, if that’s the case we’ll want to testify all of them, and the rest will testify the light was red. Daniela didn’t want the witnesses to testify; she was concerned that they would go off on tangents and be unhelpful. One of them even said, shortly after arriving to the courtroom, that she did not want to see the defendant. The bottom line was that no witnesses testified at all.

The jurors were handed copies of the accusatory document, which already includes summaries of the evidence against the defendant and the judge’s “pronúncia” – the decision to bring the case to the jury in the first place. They were given some time to read it, and one of the court workers brought in a big tray with little cups of strong coffee for everyone to sip while they read. All parties, except the defendant, were served coffee, and small trays of cookies for everyone followed. Food is very meaningful in Brazilian culture, and eating together is an important social ritual. At cookie time, Daniela explained to me that the judge had the discretion to close the case based on police evidence, and sometimes does, and also the discretion to decide that the case was not befitting a jury panel and should be sent before the judge.

After the jurors familiarized themselves with the facts, the judge asked the defendant a few questions about his work, familial status, etc. He explained to the defendant that he had the right to testify and very respectfully presented everyone—the jury, the prosecutor, even me—to the defendant, as if we were all seated in the judge’s living room. He then asked the defendant whether he wanted to testify. The defendant replied that he did not, and that his testimony in the police station—in which he admitted to being drunk and falling asleep behind the wheel—could speak for him. He was visibly anxious and very miserable.

The judge allowed the prosecutor to speak, and she started by acknowledging every single person—even me—by name. She smilingly introduced the defense attorneys, referring to each by name, and gently needled them about being “three against one”. She started by expressing thanks to the jurors for their important service, and ended by saying to the defendant that we all wanted justice and that we were hoping to be fair to him.

Then, she proceeded to present to the jury her theory of the case. In the absence of witnesses, the attorneys were allowed to give lengthy speeches to the jury, walking them through the evidence. I was told that, had there been witnesses, they would first be examined by the judge to give their version, then by the prosecutor, and then by the defense attorneys. Parties are allowed to cross-examine the other side’s witnesses. Attorneys could object to questions and the judge could disallow them, and often judges would disallow questions on their own, not prompted by a party’s objection. In general, the judge plays a much more active role in conducting the trial, getting up frequently from his chair, conferring with the attorneys, addressing the jury, and attending to administrative matters (it also is possible that Judge Pimenta is particularly lively and engaged.)

In this particular case, the speeches pertained to an interesting question of substantive criminal law. Brazilian law allows for two types of criminal intent: a desire that the result occur, which is the equivalent of first/second degree murder mens rea in American common law, and awareness of the possibility that the result might happen. According to the prosecutor, this case fell into the latter category. Because the defendant had just left his shift and then decided to go drinking, he must have been aware of the possibility that he could commit an accident, and therefore assumed the risk of doing so. She combined her explanations of criminal doctrine with testimonies of the victims in the case, and the defendant’s own testimony in the police station. The jury attentively followed her, flipping through their materials. While obviously sympathetic to the victims and their suffering, the prosecutor was also sympathetic to the defendant, especially given the long time that had passed since the accident. After her speech was finished, she and I discussed her theory of the case. Brazil does not have plea bargains, except in very small cases, where they are legally proscribed “discounts” for pleading guilty and/or for providing information about the crime. Had the Brazilian system allowed them, she would probably had agreed to a guilty plea to a lesser charge of homicide, even though she thought her theory of the case was sound and the defendant acted with “conscious negligence” (the equivalent of recklessness in common law), because of the time that has passed since the accident and its effect on the defendant. She therefore told the jury that her argument was doctrinal-technical, but that they should vote with their conscience. She thought that her lucid but tempered argument may have communicated to the jury that, as opposed to other homicide cases they had seen during their two-month tenure, this one was not one of the serious ones.

After the prosecutor finished, the first of three defense attorneys, Joao Angelo, rose to speak. Like the prosecutor, he started his speech with a very gracious address to everyone in the room (including me). He thanked the prosecutor for her “calm and respectable” presentation (perhaps hinting to the jury that even the prosecutor was not out to get the defendant.) He then proceeded to argue the case. He spoke mainly of two things: the fact that the defendant obviously had not desired the lethal outcome and did not seek it, and the suffering he had been through in the years since the accident. Some of the argument was legal, but for the most part it was a plea for clemency. Criminal procedure in Brazil allows the prosecutor the opportunity for rebuttal, but doing that opens the door for a subsequent rebuttal by the defense. Because she didn’t feel the case merited a severe outcome, Daniela quietly made the decision not to rebut.

After the defense attorney’s speech, we all broke for lunch. When the judge invited me to eat with them—which was very kind of him—I didn’t quite know where we were headed. It turns out that, on days in which trials are heard in the morning, everyone—the judge, the prosecutor, the defense attorneys, the jurors—share lunch together in the courtroom, sitting around a large table. The court employee in charge of the jury, who also wears a little black robe, arranges for a very nice and rich meal, and so we all chatted amicably around the table, eating roasted chicken, rice, vegetables, plantains, and manioc flour. There was a tacit agreement that no one spoke about the case, and people just had a nice, companionable lunch together for almost an hour before the trial resumed.

When we returned to our seat, the two remaining defense attorneys proceeded with their argument. Their arguments were fairly theatrical and exaggerated, but their essence was the same as that of the first attorney: that the defendant should receive clemency. The second attorney even mentioned that the aftermath of the accident drove the defendant to a suicide attempt, which was not proven in any external materials (and the jury might or might not have believed.) He was divorced after the accident, but we did not know whether the divorce was related to the accident. The prosecutor felt that the attorney misquoted her, arguing a point of law she hadn’t actually made, but she clearly prioritized fairness in the defendant’s case over an ego battle and decided to let it go.

As the defense attorneys argued their case, the judge typed up a list of interrogatories for the jury. It was titled “Quesitos”, and for each of the nine victims it listed four questions:

1.     Had the victim suffered an accident?
2.     Did the defendant drive the vehicle that caused the victim’s death?
3.     Did the defendant assume the risk that he might cause the accident?
4.     Does the jury choose to absolve the defendant?

Questions 1-2 are matters of fact (and clearly were not in dispute in this case). Question 3 is a matter of law, and Question 4 is a matter of ethics and morals. The breakdown of jury decision into interrogatories is new to Brazilian law, introduced in a 2008 amendment. The judge shares the interrogatories with the parties and revises them if they express reservations he accepts.

After the attorneys were done, the judge emptied the room of audience (especially of the crime victims, because the vote is secret and there is concern about retaliation) and addressed the jury. He explained that he didn’t need their vote with regard to each victim, because the accident was the same. He also said that, since questions 1 and 2 were not in dispute, they were going to assume an affirmative answer to both, and start with question 3. He would ask question 4 only depending on the result of question 3. Each juror was handed a green ballot by the court employee, consisting of “sim” and “não” options. The judge asked question 3, again briefly explaining assumption of risk, and the jury voted. A court employee collected the ballots in a wooden box and closed the lid. The judge shook the lid and counted the votes. After 3 “sim” and 4 “não” responses, the deciding seventh vote was “não”, and the defendant was therefore declared not to have assumed the risk. The judge concluded that, in light of this decision, question 4 was not necessary. Daniela explained that, even though the interrogatory separates between the legal and ethical questions, juries frequently combine their answer in the legal vote.

With that, the jury’s part of the trial was over and I had to rush to the airport, but the judge and parties still had some work left to do. In the absence of a vote of intent, this was no longer a jury case, and the judge convicted the defendant of negligent homicide. The punishment was 4 years, but it was substituted by community work, and the defendant agreed to pay each of the living victims $250,00 dollars. The prosecutor walked away from the case feeling the decision was fair. Since the case presented a rather meaty legal question, as well as special personal considerations, no one was surprised that the vote came close. The jury faced a genuine dilemma and faithfully made an effort to follow the case and decide fairly.

“Is it crazy?” my friends, local academics and lawyers, asked me as they graciously gave me a lift to the airport. Crazy? I thought. Not really; that is, not necessarily less or more crazy than an American trial, or of any way which human beings orchestrate to pass judgment on their peers.

Many thanks to Daniela Moysés for inviting me to join her workday, to Judge Victor Pimenta for accepting me so kindly into his courtroom, and to everyone else involved in their trial for their graciousness.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

CCC Visit to a Maximum Security Prison in Brazil

I got extremely lucky today. My very gracious hosts here in Vitoria organized for me to visit a maximum security prison out of town!

Brazilian prisons are fairly brutal places with abysmal conditions. Only two days ago, a prison riot in Cascavel claimed three lives in horrible ways. A story on The Economist, which was published a few months ago, ascribes the brutality, and the murders of about 220 inmates in the last year and a half, to the severe overcrowding in the system.

In the past 20 years Brazil’s population has grown by 30%, while that of its prisons and police cells has almost quintupled, to 550,000—the fourth-highest in the world, behind the United States, China and Russia.

Officially, Brazilian penitentiaries have room for around 300,000 people. There is federal money to spend on building extra prisons, which are largely run by the states. But it can flow only once a project is approved by a local town. They are reluctant hosts, fearing that penitentiaries both bring crime when prisoners are released and also divert resources from other public works. “Everyone wants hospitals and schools,” says Antonio Ferreira Pinto, a former security secretary in São Paulo state. “No one wants a prison.” Federal-prison spending fell in 2012.

Brazil needs cells to house genuine criminals: the murder rate stood at 24.3 per 100,000 in 2012, more than six times higher than in Chile. But really it needs fewer inmates. Lucia Nader of Conectas, a human-rights group, attributes an upsurge in prisoners since 2006 to a law that decriminalised possession of drugs for personal use but stiffened penalties for trafficking. The distinction between the two is left to the arresting officer. “A light-skinned yuppie smoking pot on the beach is a user and left in peace,” says Ms Nader. “A dark-skinned slum-dweller lighting a spliff on the street is a peddler and thrown in jail.” Since the law’s introduction, the number of people held for trafficking has swelled from 33,000 in 2005 to 138,000 in 2012.

There are two bottlenecks that prevent the release of inmates that would alleviate the overcrowding: undiscriminating pretrial detention (41% of all inmates) and a paucity of legal advice that would enable inmates to benefit from Brazil’s theoretically world-class laws on parole and alternative sentences like community service.

With too many prisoners flowing in, and not enough flowing out, a cesspool festers in the middle. On paper Brazil’s prisons are a paragon of modernity. In practice, says Marcos Fuchs of Instituto Pro Bono, another human-rights group, they are medieval. In one São Paulo penitentiary he visited, 62 people were crammed in a cell meant for 12, taking turns to sleep on the floor or by leaning against a wall. According to official figures, half a million inmates received care from 367 doctors in 2012. Fifteen gynaecologists served 32,000 female prisoners, many of whom use bread to stanch menstrual bleeding.

Knowing all this, I was invited to join two Espirito Santo prosecutors on a trip to audit Capixaba, a maximum-security prison located in a rural area of the state. Every month, the office of the prosecutor conducts an audit of the prisons.

When we came in, we were met by Bruno, the energetic prison warden. I was very impressed with him; for someone so young, he is not only incredibly practical and capable, but also full of good, sound ideas, and he treats all the inmates, all of whom he knows personally, like full-fledged human beings--with a balance between discipline and compassion.

The prison is located in a modern building. The state purchased the model from the United States and built it in 2011. It is a fairly new institution, with automatic doors that control everything from entrances to the water in the showers. What you can't see are the cells, which we were not allowed to document out of concern for the inmates' privacy. We were, however, allowed to walk. There are four hallways, three of which are regular hallways. One of them is devoted to students and allows them time to study. In each cellblock, there are a few inmates who study theology and their cells are designated "Igreja" (church). They have volunteered to offer spiritual help to the other inmates.

The cells are very crowded: at their design capacity, they hold four inmates in two bunk beds in a space equivalent to one SHU cell in California. Moreover, at the moment Bruno has approximately 750 inmates in a space designed for 650, and some cells have 6 inmates in them, which means two folks sleep on mattresses on the floor.

I asked about solitary confinement. Bruno was surprised, then explained that he did not believe in segregation, so he simply never did that. Instead, if someone violated the discipline, they were sent to a special aisle of cells where disruptive folks lived, to enable the other people to live in peace.
The gardener.

At the entrance to the prison, we were greeted by a beautiful organic vegetable garden. The garden is run by an employee of the state who is also a biologist. He has transformed the outside of the entire prison into a bountiful farm, and the produce goes straight to the kitchen. At lunchtime, we saw the meal, which was very decent - chicken, rice, beans, vegetables - and contained produce. The surplus is donated to needy families.

The garden manager chooses frail, ill inmates to work in the garden, because he reasons that they can benefit more from the sunshine.





The garden.
This is another picture of the garden. Not all the inmates who work here are from this prison; some come from a nearby "semi-open" prison, in which inmates walk to work. At the moment, the Brazil prison bottleneck means that anyone who gets four years or less doesn't actually do any prison time, and folks sentenced to a bit more sometimes get to do their time in an institution where they only go to sleep. They work outside the prison all day. The guys we met, who were proud and happy of their vegetable garden, stroll without any supervision from the other prison here every day to work, and calmly return to bed at night.

Outside the prison, near the garden, we met the prison's two full-time psychologists, who conduct extensive intake interviews with the inmates and help them put together education and work plans.

Lawyers meet the inmates through plexiglass in a special meeting room that looks like the one in any American prison. But they're not the only visitors, of course; inmates are allowed a one-hour conjugal visit with their wife, or a legally-recognized partner, once every 15 days. The prison has basic but decent and clean rooms for this purpose, with a bed, a mattress, and a washbasin. The women undergo a search coming in but are treated with respect by guards and inmates. While Bruno created some rules for walking around the prison, the inmates came up with an informal code of their own: out of respect for their fellow inmates and their wives and a willingness to avoid violence and anger, they look away when women pass by.

There is also a big yard and a big family room, and children can come visit and play in the yard. Because of the good influence of visits on inmates' morale and behavior, last year, Bruno transferred several inmates from a distant part of the country to an institution close to their families, and accepted local inmates in return.

Vinicius and his art.
Bruno strongly believes that inmates who keep busy and better themselves are happier and cause less trouble, so he runs a rigorous study and work program. The prison school has at least five classes. Every class teaches on an accelerated pace--the curriculum of two regular schools in one year. Many of the inmates learned their alphabet for the first time in prison. They continue from grade to grade. We saw algebraic equations, anatomy, and language classes going on while we were touring the prison. There is also a library, where some inmates are doing a librarian apprenticeship program. Bruno is fairly well read on pedagogy, and he's come up with a plan: the inmates will finish high school, then attend a technical school on the grounds, and then be assigned a job.

In Bruno's prison there are several ways to spend your time. There is an art studio, where inmates paint and make marvelous objects of art. Their teacher, who was enthusiastically explaining perspective to them, is Vinicius, a gifted oil and charcoal painter himself, who is serving his second sentence for drug trafficking. A gentle and intelligent soul, Vinicius explained about his program and we became friends. At the end of my visit, he very generously gifted me this beautiful painting.

Net factory.
There are also two prison industries: one that makes football and volleyball nets, and one that makes handmade quality footballs. These are not industries supported by outside corporations. They were conceived and created by Bruno and the prison staff, and the nets and footballs are donated to schools and other institutions.


Football factory.
Footballs!
The prison infirmary has nurses and a dentist for eight hours a day and a physician for 20 hours a week. It's fairly calm and undercrowded; the inmates are, for the most part, young and healthy, and sentences in Brazil are much shorter than in the United States. But there are several inmates with AIDS and diabetes, and the staff treats them on the premises. In rare cases, very ill inmates are simply released home, to house arrest.

A local church has started a music program with the prison, and several inmates have joined a choir. There are also several talented musicians who started a samba band, and they were rehearsing when we came to visit. They told us that some of them had been musicians outside and some learned music behind bars. I thought they sounded fantastic.

Samba band.


On the way out, we told Daniella, the prosecutor, that we hope she doesn't now get motivated to send inmates there. We know that there are only eight prisons like Capixaba in the state, and the rest of them are awful, full of violence, boredom, and terrible conditions. Since apparently there is federal money to reform prisons, I very much hope Brazil will model more of its prisons like Capixaba, with one variation: an improvement in the impossibly-small cell size. The key to stay sane and healthy in Capixaba is to spend as much time out of the cell as possible, working, studying, and learning new skills; being in the cells is extremely depressing and requires being with at least other three human beings in very close quarters.

With warden Bruno and the psychologists.
Tomorrow, I'm heading with Daniella, the prosecutor, to see a negligent homicide trial in the lower courts. Stay tuned for more adventures.

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Many thanks to Daniella and her fellow prosecutor, as well as to Ricardo Gueiros and Marco Olsen, for bringing me to Capixaba and treating me with generous hospitality; to Bruno, for allowing us an extensive tour of his well-run prison; and to Vinicius, for sharing his art and talent with us.