In October 2018, Army General Augusto Heleno — who currently serves as Jair Bolsonaro’s chief security officer — said “human rights are, basically, for righteous humans.” It is a common adage among the Brazilian far-right, implying that only law-abiding citizens should have their fundamental rights and prerogatives respected. The phrase has never made so much sense as within Brazil’s prisons — where Covid-19 spreads like wildfire without any reaction whatsoever from authorities.
A report by the National Justice Council shows that coronavirus infections among inmates jumped from 243, on May 1, to 1,062 on May 21. The number of contaminated guards and staff members has skyrocketed from 327 to 1,598 over the same time frame. If underreporting is massive in the outside world, it is even more so within jails and prisons — almost no one is being tested.
Moreover, diseases like tuberculosis are common — infection rates among prisoners are 35 times higher than the general population — making a Covid-19 diagnosis all the more difficult.
In possession of the numbers, the council instructed judges to order frequent inspections in penitentiaries. Overcrowding in Brazilian prisons makes social distance measures impossible to implement. Staffers, lawyers, and inmates’ family members have denounced the sheer lack of infrastructure — from essential protection equipment to drinking water, in some cases.
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