Brazil’s Overuse of Pre-trial Detention of Grave Concern

London – Human rights violations of pre-trial detainees in Brazil must be urgently addressed according to a report released today by the International Bar Association Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI). “One in Five: the crisis in Brazil’s prisons and criminal justice system” exposes the failures of the country’s criminal justice system to provide fair and timely trials, access to lawyers, and protection from prison gangs. The Brazilian National Justice Council, a supervisory body of the judiciary, has found that of the 84,000 cases it has reviewed so far, one in five pre-trial prisoners are currently being wrongfully detained. This suggests that the problem is extremely serious nationwide.

“The Brazilian government is falling short of its constitutional obligations to uphold human rights to which all Brazilians are entitled,” said Juan Mendez, co-chair of IBAHRI. “The current crisis is also becoming a public security concern, which cuts across the state’s attempts to tackle violent crime.”

The report calls for essential reforms, including alternatives to pre-trial detention, increased access to free legal representation, and adequate judicial oversight. Civil society organizations and justice institutions must hold the government accountable for these necessary changes.

With the fourth highest prison population in the world, many Brazilians spend years in pre-trial detention or remain in prison after the expiry of their sentence due to bureaucratic incompetence or systemic failings. Severe overcrowding, poor sanitary conditions, gang violence and torture are commonplace.

The rapid rise in the prison population, close to 3,000 new prisoners per month, is overwhelming an already exhausted court system, leading to a large and growing back-log of cases and increasing delays in the conduct of trials. 80% of prisoners cannot afford a lawyer and the low number of public defenders in the country is grossly inadequate to deal with all those who require legal assistance, leading to concern about the fairness of many of the trials being conducted.

The report will be launched today at the IBA/AASP Rule of Law Conference in São Paulo. Key speakers include: Juan Mendez, IBAHRI co-chair; and Marcio Thomaz Bastos, President of the Innovare Institute and former Brazilian Minister of Justice. Further information on the event can be found at or contact Flavia Alves of the IBA on

The report One in Five: the Crisis in Brazil’s prisons and criminal justice system is available to download in English and Portuguese from the IBAHRI website:


For further information please contact:
Neil Smith – Marketing Manager
International Bar Association
Press Office
10th Floor
1 Stephen Street
London W1T 1AT
United Kingdom

Direct Line: +44 (0)20 7691 4864
Main Office: +44 (0)20 7691 6868
Fax: +44 (0)20 7691 6544