Iara Ailgenfritz



This research, carried out from 1999 to 2000 with imprisoned women, is aimed at calling the attention of those responsible for public policies at this level. It describes the conditions women prisoners live in; identifies the family and institutional violence they have undergone; it holds that there is a correlation of reproduction and continuity between participation in criminal activities and a history of violence suffered in infancy, adolescence or the adult phase and, furthermore, shows the scenery of violence exercised inside prison systems and which keeps people in crime.


The methodology used focused on direct contact with the prison population by using a private questionnaire containing elements of inmates' life histories. The questionnaire lasted approximately 50 minutes. This fieldwork reveals that, in the past 12 years, the number of women put into prison on charges of drug trafficking -either as users or traffickers- has increased. It determines however that this is not tied to a greater disposition on the part of women to break the law.


The values of a patriarchal society, and the fact that they occupy subsidiary positions in the trafficking network, make women more vulnerable to violence and repression, with few resources to negotiate their freedom when they are captured. Data regarding torture, aggression, and threats is terrifying.


The main motives which led them to trafficking relate to influence by a third party, almost always men with which they had emotional ties, and, secondly, to economic difficulties, accompanied by unemployment and attractive high drug "salaries."


A high proportion of the women said they had abused of drugs at one point in their lives. Drugs are tolerated in prisons, and the authorities are either absent or accomplices. Drugs also serve as intimidating elements since penitentiary agents commonly “prepare the means to catch inmates red-handed” in order to punish or to bribe them.


One interesting aspect in women's prisons is that neither commandos nor organized groups are formed, as opposed to men's prisons.


The women incarcerated in the state of Rio de Janeiro are very young; 76.1% of them are between the ages of 18 and 39 and black and mulatto women make up over half (56.5%) of the overall population.  Their educational profile is quite low, 68.5% of the women have never been to school, or have barely finished the first grade, 12.6% are illiterate.


There is a predominance of Brazilians, originally from the Rio de Janeiro state and other states in the South-Eastern Region.  Prior to prison, 90.1% had had a paying job. When sent to prison almost 60% of these women were working:  24.6% of them as domestic employees, 23% in commerce, and 11.6% in services. Meanwhile, 9% of them declared that they were involved in criminal activities.  Most, 54%, started working before the age of sixteen; and 24.6% before they were 13 years old.  Work in prison is almost nonexistent.


Violence is and has been a constant element in the lives of these women, both from the perspective of personal experiences as well as with regards to a close relative.


This study concludes that most of the women incarcerated come to prison with a prior history of mistreatment and drug abuse (their own or that of a close relative).  This does not mean that these experiences can be considered conducive towards criminality or directly responsible for these women's entry into the penal system since most of the women who are the victims of aggression as well as those who are dependent on alcohol and other drugs are outside of prisons and penitentiaries. What was shown by this prison data was that, by depriving these women of their freedom, and as a result of the abuses committed inside their walls, prisons seem more like one more link in the chain of multiple violences that make up the history of a number of female inmates.  The cycle of violence which begins in the family and infant and teenage offenders' institutions continues during marriage, projects itself in traditional police practices, which are completed by the penitentiaries; only to recommence once outside the prison gates.


Since no effective efforts have been made to understand the motives and circumstances under which these women break the law, prevention initiatives and specific penitentiary policies are nonexistent. Women are only remembered when the events in which they are involved reach the headlines, with a good degree of sensationalism tied to the supposed escalation of women's participation in such events; until violence committed by men comes back on the scene and women are once more forgotten.

Translated from Spanish by MamaCoca

MM Moreno

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