I am writing from Oxford, where, you can see my views in the photos below. Since last July, when I moved to the UK, my thoughts have never been so much in Brazil, my home country. Measures taken to tackle the spread of coronavirus have been mishandled there, and people in vulnerable situations are more likely to suffer from the worst consequences of this.

Brazilian authorities have officially declared the first two cases of death due to coronavirus in Brazilian prisons. It has also been announced that 93 inmates have tested positive for COVID-19. Compared to other countries, such as the UK and the US, it looks like a manageable or not-yet-chaotic situation. Nonetheless, the reality is actually much more frightening than it seems to be.

View from my room.

Dubbed ‘the World’s most powerful coronavirus denier’, Jair Bolsonaro, Brazilian president, continues to sabotage quarantine efforts and underestimate the seriousness of the current crisis. Besides playing down the effects of coronavirus, he has joined anti-lockdown coronavirus protests, as well as public demonstrations for the closure of Brazil’s Congress and Supreme Court, which represents a serious threat to Brazilian democracy. Refusing to comment on COVID-19 death toll, he has said: I’m not a gravedigger. That is the person currently at the head of the Brazilian state.

Whilst several countries have released a considerable number of people from prisons, judges in Brazil have been denying requests for temporary and early releases, as well as for home confinement. In one recent case, to justify the denial of Habeas Corpus, a judge ironically argued that only astronauts are protected from the risk of COVID-19 contagion.

To date, the only concrete policies aimed at containing coronavirus spread in Brazilian prisons are basically the prohibition of visitors in prison facilities, the suspension of legal assistance from solicitors, and the restriction of prisoners’ removal and transfer from the prison they are in. The Ministry of Justice is planning to create new prison beds by installing adapted containers, where inmates with COVID-19 symptoms would be held.

View from the carrel I have recently been allocated
If the external context is frightening, the internal reality of Brazilian prisons is even worse. 855,921 inmates are gathered in a system whose poor and deficient infrastructure is overcrowded, with nearly 2 inmates for each official prison bed. Furthermore, Brazilian prisons are known for being a hub for infectious and contagious diseases, such as tuberculosis and HIV. In addition, at least a third of inmates in Brazil were in facilities that did not even have a health centre, and less than 2,000 fully qualified medical practitioners were employed across the prison system in June 2017.

This whole scenario makes it clear that 855,921 inmates, as well as prison staff and their families, are being exposed to high levels of risks. Rather than minimising these risks, Brazilian president’s plays, in tandem with Brazilian judges’ alienation, represent additional threats, for both those who are incarcerated and those who are not.