This month 10 students were supposed to join me in Brazil for a study abroad course titled "Inequality, Race, and Gender in Brazil." The COVID-19 crisis made us change our plans. After the trip was cancelled we moved the course online and students could explore any issue related to race, gender, and inequality in Brazil. They completed various assignments, including a larger research paper reviewing the literature on a topic of their interest. After they were done with their research I asked them to write a blog post outlining the things they learned and some of the most intriguing aspects of their research. This is the second post of the series.
Before this class I knew very little about Brazil. Essentially, all of my knowledge stemmed from a few articles and shows that I had seen over the years. I knew that the primary language was Portuguese, the country was the largest in South America, the largest rainforests were located in the country, deforestation was a major problem, and there are some indigenous groups left in the country. This were just general facts that I knew but I had no in-depth information. I also had no knowledge about Brazil’s history other than it had been colonized by some entity from the East.
Thus, one of the most interesting facts I learned from “Brazil: A Biography” was that Brazil was colonized by the Portuguese and became the seat of the Portuguese crown. The king arrived in 1808 and the royal family did not leave Brazil until 1889 (Schwarcz, L. M., & Starling, H. M. M., p 180/353). Their reign had lasting effects that can still be seen today. The goal of the monarchy was for the country to prosper and be a powerful entity in the world. Due to this goal the Brazilian economy became a focus which led to the slave trade and racial inequality that still persists today.
Another fact I learned about Brazil that helped me form a better understanding of the country was the importance and prominence of slavery. Slavery began essentially upon the colonizers’ arrival to the country. The indigenous populations were exploited for labor and when their numbers started to decrease the importation of African slaves began (Schwarcz, L. M., & Starling, H. M. M., p 55). Slavery in Brazil, just as in other countries, created racial divisions. Even after the abolishment of slavery in 1888 individuals of African descent faced discrimination, prejudice, and inequality (Schwarcz, L. M., & Starling, H. M. M., p 335) . All of which are still issues today.
For my research, I used the information regarding inequality and race that was presented in “Brazil: A Biography” and combined it with my interest in the criminal justice system. Therefore, my research topic was on inequality within the prison system of Brazil with a small focus on race. I had previously done some research on mass incarceration within the United States and I had volunteered with ex-offenders at a center in St. Cloud. I also hope to become a criminal defense attorney so learning as much as I can about the criminal justice system in the United States and other countries will help me develop a better understanding of the systems and the individuals within them. Doing this research also allowed me to see what is working and what is not working in systems different from the United States and what could be changed or implemented here.
My research consisted of academic sources as well as multiple media sources. The academic sources helped to give me a base understanding of the criminal justice system, the structure of the prisons, and specific issues within the prison system. In Brazil there are many branches of government with a multitude of agencies and organizations within the branches. Criminal investigations are mainly handled by the Federal and Civil Police (Mendonça, A. A Brief Account., p 64). There are laws in place which regulate the actions of those working within the criminal justice system. The main law is the 1941 Code of Criminal Procedure which regulates the criminal procedure in the country (Mendonça, A. The Effective Collection., p 58).
The prisons in Brazil are not run by a single entity. Rather, each state is responsible for the organization and maintenance of their prisons (Dias, Camila., Salla, Fernando., p 398). Since each state controls their own prisons there will be differing prison structures, resources, and conditions. Fundamentally, the prison system is unequal. The incarceration policy in Brazil “disproportionately and systematically affects black, low-income youth with low levels of education,” (Criminal Justice Network, p 5). Black men and women are convicted at greater rates than whites. Even though there is no difference in the number of crimes committed between blacks and whites (Alves, J. A., p 235). This trend cannot only be seen in Brazil but in other countries such as the United States. A country where slavery was also prominent. Apart from there being inequality in the prison system there are other issues as well.
Some of these issues, that the academic articles helped form an understanding of, include a lack of state legal representation, and overcrowding. In Brazil state legal representation is in high demand since a majority of the incarcerated population cannot afford private attorneys. However, the “number of public defenders is insufficient to attend to the increasing numbers of poor black inmates,” (Alves, J. A., p 233). This is just another instance where racial inequality is present.
As for overcrowding, every prison in Brazil is over occupancy. Many prisoners are living in areas of less than a square meter per prisoner (Darke, S., p 274). Since there is overcrowding and understaffing within the prisons the prisoners are used to make up for the staffing shortages. There are prisons in which inmates are turnkeys, those that lock and unlock cells, entrance guards, and in charge of other common tasks that paid staff should be doing (Darke, S., p 276). There are many issues within the Brazilian prison systems that do, and do not relate to race. The academic articles were essential for forming a base understanding of the system as a whole and how the prisons functioned.
The media sources helped further expand upon topics that were presented in the academic articles as well as bringing new issues within the prison system to light. Another strength of the media sources was the suggestions for improvements to the system. Brazilian prisons are known for violence. As of 2019, “24 of Brazil's 26 states (and district capital) have suffered prison violence in the last decade,” (Muggah, R., Opinion: Brazil's Prison Massacres Send A Dire Message.). This violence primarily stems from overcrowding but it also stems from the criminal organizations within the prisons. These organizations are quite prevalent and the prisons are fertile grounds for the running of the organizations. In prisons, gangs can “operate relatively freely from inside, thanks to easy access to cellphones and other methods of communication,” (Waldron, T., A 'Problem From Hell': Why Brazil's Deadly Prison Riots Keep Happening).
These articles were also instrumental in my understanding of what needs to be done to improve the system and the role that the government is playing in these improvements. As one may have guessed, the government is not doing much. So far to address the overcrowding, which is the main source for issues within the system, the government is building more prisons. However, the inmate population is growing almost at a rate double to that of new prison beds (Waldron, T., A 'Problem From Hell': Why Brazil's Deadly Prison Riots Keep Happening). The government has also separated the leaders of the criminal organizations from their followers but this failed. It strengthened the organizations because it has allowed them to expand to new facilities (Mellen, R., Why Brazil has been so prone to deadly prison riots.). The improvements that need to be made are not going to be made with the current Brazilian government. Especially with a president that when campaigning pledged to crack down on violence, thus increasing prison populations, and used the familiar Brazilian refrain, “a good criminal is a dead criminal,” (Muggah, R., Toboada, C., & Tinoco, D., Q&A: Why Is Prison Violence So Bad in Brazil?).
For an improvement to occur there needs to be a reduction in the number of individuals incarcerated, an increase in access to legal representation, and new legislation. One way to reduce overcrowding is to reduce sentence length as well as resolving outstanding cases. This could be done by “incentivizing federal and state-level judges, prosecutors and public defenders to resolve outstanding cases and penalizing those who do not,” (Muggah, R., Toboada, C., & Tinoco, D., Q&A: Why Is Prison Violence So Bad in Brazil?). There would also be a decrease in the incarcerated population if certain crimes were decriminalized and there was rehabilitation instead of incarceration. With increased representation there would be more individuals available to resolve outstanding cases and reduce overcrowding. New legislation could also be implemented to reduce sentences and increase resources for prisons to improve their conditions.
Overall, there is great inequality within the prison system of Brazil. Inequality related to race and gender. Much of this inequality stems from slavery and the social stratification that it created. The “characteristics of the past remain interwoven in the fabric of today’s society and cannot be removed by goodwill or decree,” (Schwarcz, L. M., & Starling, H. M. M, p 585). Thus, for change to occur there needs to be a restructuring and a change within broader society.
Darke, S. (2013). Inmate governance in Brazilian prisons. The Howard Journal of Criminal Justice, 52(3), 272-284. doi:10.1111/hojo.12010
Alves, J. A. (2016). On mules and bodies: black captivities in the Brazilian racial
Criminal Justice Network. (2016, Oct 6). Human Rights and Criminal Justice in Brazil.
Darke, S. (2013). Inmate governance in Brazilian prisons. The Howard Journal of Criminal Justice, 52(3), 272-284. doi:10.1111/hojo.12010
Dias, Camila., Salla, Fernando. (2013). Organized crime in brazilian prisons: The example of the pcc. International Journal of Criminology and Sociology,(2013). doi:10.6000/1929-4409.2013.02.37
Mellen, R. (2019, July 30). Why Brazil has been so prone to deadly prison riots. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2019/07/30/why-brazil-has-been-so-prone-deadly-prison-riots/
Mendonça, A. (2014). The Criminal Justice System in Brazil: A Brief Account, pg. 63–70.
Mendonça, A. (2014). The Effective Collection and Utilization of Evidence in Criminal Cases: Current Situation and Challenges in Brazil, pg. 58-62.
Muggah, R. (2019, May 28). Opinion: Brazil's Prison Massacres Send A Dire Message. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/2019/05/28/727667809/opinion-brazils-gruesome-prison-massacres-send-a-dire-message
Muggah, R., Toboada, C., & Tinoco, D. (2019, August 2). Q&A: Why Is Prison Violence So Bad in Brazil? Retrieved from https://www.americasquarterly.org/content/qa-why-prison-violence-so-bad-brazil
Schwarcz, L. M., & Starling, H. M. M. (2018). Brazil : a biography (First American). Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Waldron, T. (2019, July 31). A 'Problem From Hell': Why Brazil's Deadly Prison Riots Keep Happening. Retrieved from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/brazil-prison-riots-jair-bolsonaro_n_5d405762e4b0d24cde065093
About the author: My name is Dakotah Dorholt and I am a recent graduate of the College of Saint Benedict. I majored in Sociology and plan on continuing my education at Drake University Law School. I am originally from Sauk Rapids, Minnesota. My favorite classes that I took during my four years were Criminology and Corrections as well as Race and Ethnic Groups in the United States. The best experience I had at St. Bens was studying abroad in Cork, Ireland.
By Mareda Smith
This is a movie review of "The End Of Poverty?" documentary (link to the documentary here). This was an assignment for my POLS 132 (Global Politics) class this fall, an introductory Political Science course. In this assignment students were expected to write a review of the movie while connecting to course material. In the review students must:
For more information on the documentary, please check their website: http://www.theendofpoverty.com/
When I first started to organize my ideas for this paper, I thought about all that I had learned about poverty both from the film and from other texts we read throughout the semester, and tried to think about all of the different factors contributing to global poverty in a chronological sense. Then I thought about how these factors were connected by similar motives and human tendencies. I then tried to demonstrate how these tendencies have influenced global politics throughout time- from European colonialism to present day international economic policy. This allowed me to identify the trends that have persisted throughout time, continuing to exploit and oppress vulnerable populations. One of the things I appreciated most about this film was how intentionally it not only addressed the current reality of global poverty, but confronted the selfish ideas and policies that continue to support systems that disadvantage vulnerable people and drive them further into poverty. In my writing I attempted to reflect this approach, revealing how global political processes have led to the tragedies caused by global poverty.
Review: The End of Poverty
While poverty exists in every country imaginable, it is undeniable that it is more prevalent in some countries than others. Despite its pervasiveness, poverty continues to be a bit of a taboo topic, at least within privileged Western circles. While attempting to grasp and take responsibility for the many factors which lead hundreds of millions of people to work for minimal pay, go hungry, and sleep in tiny shacks is certainly uncomfortable, continuing to ignore these factors only accentuates the problem. Philippe Diaz’s The End of Poverty sheds light on the complex history behind global poverty and how developed countries have fed poverty by employing systems which benefit themselves at the expense of others.
The End of Poverty reveals how Western society’s constant obsession with imperialism and economic growth has led to actions which have had significant consequences on other states. The film draws significant attention to colonialism and its contribution to the system of exploitation that still prevails today. From a global politics perspective, it is important to acknowledge the ways in which the lack of global governance led to the use of power for exploitation. As the film notes, the British justified the expropriation of land that didn’t belong to them through their own legal system (which, obviously, had significant bias) because there were no global standards on the issue or international legal procedures. Transnational norms, which Daniel Drezner describes as “a powerful constraint on action in world politics”, also did not prevent the British expropriation of land, but rather followed their action (Drezner 66). The resulting colonies, were then forced into total dependency on the conquering nation, producing a single good to be exported back to the “motherland”.
The effects of such locked economies can still be seen today as the poorest countries continue to struggle with a lack of export diversification. As Paul Collier emphasizes in The Bottom Billion, “the intervention that is critical for export diversification is trade policy...it is absolutely vital. Without effective temporary protection against the Asian giants, the countries of the bottom billion will not break into global markets” (Collier 183). Such trade policies, as part of a broader economic system, have been almost exclusively established by Western officials, but have had detrimental effects on countries at the lower end of the economic spectrum. The End of Poverty delves pretty deeply into the consequences of market globalization, neocolonialism and market and trade liberalism. Eric Toussaint and David Ellerman note in the film that while countries struggling with the highest levels of poverty are politically independent, they are still subjected to a sort of neocolonial international economic order that is catered to the needs of the west at the expense of the resources and labor belonging to the south. As noted in Global Studies Reader, "countries that have been most deeply impacted by globalization--the countries of the global south… found themselves increasingly squeezed by growing international debts and decreasing prices for the goods they export. They had borrowed money from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund... Now these loans were coming due and they found themselves unable to service their debts while also continuing to meet the needs of their citizens….governments had to force their citizens to bear the brunt of the costs of the debt" (Steger 64).
While Diaz’s film resonates with Drezner, Collier, and Steger’s texts in more ways that could possibly be processed in this review, perhaps the most important message that is carried throughout the four works, is how easy it is to forget about poorer countries in the midst of our frantic Western growth-obsessed mentality. It is imperative that international regulatory organizations such as the IMF, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization consider the needs of “bottom billion” societies with equal reverence to their consideration of Western priorities. After a close look at these four works, it is difficult to argue that our international economic system is working for everyone as it should be.
Personally, I felt that the The End of Poverty did an admiral job of demonstrating the deep roots of the systemic forces that have contributed to global poverty. Diaz effectively traces this kind of behavior back to the beginning of colonialism, and discusses how policies have evolved through the transition away from traditional colonialism to form a sort of neocolonial system. His presentation of the dark and complex history that has led us to our present day economic policies is admiral in that it does not simply discuss the policies of IMF and World Bank, but also forces viewers to think about the often ignored realities of poverty. It challenges viewers to think about how Western efforts to maintain its growth and prosperity have contributed to this frightening reality for so many others. The part of the film that I was somewhat disappointed by was the way in which it presented possible solutions at the end. While the potential actions presented were intriguing, the film failed to empower viewers to pursue practical or reasonable action. The solutions were presented in a realistic light given their drastic nature. However, it seemed that the film would have greater impact had it also provided smaller, more realistic actions viewers could take to encourage the broader policy changes that are ultimately necessary to confront the issue of poverty.
By combining scholarly discussion with impactful personal stories, Diaz presents a compelling argument for vigorously addressing global poverty. The contributions from a diverse group of economic experts and global citizens offer a broader and arguably less biased perspective on the issue and the factors contributing to it. Rather than continuing to defend the actions of the key international economic institutions, Diaz draws attention to their prioritization of Western ideals with little concern for how their policies impact developing nations. Ultimately, the film provides a necessary critical look into how international economic policy has subjected millions of people to inhumane living conditions and labor demands.
Collier, P. (2007). The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can be Done About It. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Drezner, D. W. (2011). Theories of International Politics and Zombies. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Steger, M. B. (2015). The Global Studies Reader. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Mareda Smith is a sophomore at Luther College, hoping to pursue an individualized interdisciplinary major in peace and justice studies, with a minor in data science. She is originally from Iowa City, Iowa. Mareda enjoys learning about how social justice issues can be addressed through different policy and aid approaches. She looks forward to broadening her perspective while studying abroad during her Junior year.
Sharing student assignments that should reach more people than just me.