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Maternity and Prison: faces of state violence 

Authors: Erivelto Melchiades, Kessia Gomes, Lucas Matos and Nina Barrouin.

Alluding to the month of May, considered “mothers’ month”, we invite the reader to reflect on some dimensions of the violent relationship between criminalization processes, the prison system and prohibitions on the right to the full exercise of motherhood in Brazil. 

  The latest INFOPEN Women report, released in 2018, reveals that in June 2016 Brazil had a female prison population of 42,355 women, placing us as the fourth country that imprisons women the most in the world. We can also observe that 50% of the female prison population is young, 62% are black and only 15% have completed high school. Data from INFOPEN (2018) also show that most women in prisons are responsible for crimes committed without violence, with drug trafficking being the most recurrent, responsible for the arrest of 62% of these women. 

The INFOPEN report also reveals that 74% of women arrested in Brazil are mothers. This data was reinforced by a survey released in 2020 by the Instituto Terra, Trabalho e Cidadania (ITTC), an organization with extensive experience in discussing maternity in prison, which demonstrates that the issue of maternity is present in the lives of most criminalized women. with prison sentence in Brazil.

In this regard, it is important to emphasize that thinking about the reality of women and mothers incarcerated in the country is to question the racist and unequal social structure that mobilizes these criminalization processes: women prisoners are black, from favelas, from the periphery and mothers. It is these women who have been denied the right to mother in and out of prisons, as even those who are under house arrest still face serious challenges in caring for their children. 

 Maternity in prison is characterized by numerous challenges and violence against mothers and children, from pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, and also for those who are separated from their children by imprisonment. An important example to illustrate the picture is that it was only on April 13, 2017 that there was an amendment to the Code of Criminal Procedure, in the sense of prohibiting the use of handcuffs on pregnant women during medical-hospital acts preparatory to carrying out the delivery, during labor and the immediate puerperium. This prohibition is very recent and its effectiveness needs to be guaranteed, in a context characterized by obstetric violence and the dehumanization of incarcerated women, processes based on racism and sexism.  

But the violent crossings between incarceration, drug policy and motherhood extrapolate the context of women mothers deprived of liberty. In the text that opens the book Covid in Prisons: Pandemia and Fight for Justice in Brazil (2020-2021), Christiane Pinagé, after describing the “anguish, sadness and concern” ( p. 19) of someone who has an incarcerated child, heightened feelings in the context of the pandemic and the ban on visits, he asks: “Happy Mother’s Day?” 

In the same publication, Eliene Vieira and Fátima Pinho (2021), in the text A Luta das Mães contra o Genocídio da Juventude Negra Dentro e Fora do Cárcere, expose how the performance of the “racist and exclusionary State” (p. 20), sustained by the logic of genocide and massive incarceration and ideologically justified by the “war on drugs”, produces terror in mothers on the outskirts of Brazilian cities:

It's past time to understand that in the favelas there are no weapons factories or drug factories, it's past time to understand that the big cartels are not in the favelas and outskirts and that all of this is a genocidal project by those who should care for the people and for the law: the State (p. 22) 

As stated by the authors, the response of the social movements of mothers and family members who resist the various faces of State violence is the struggle “for the rights of the favela, the right to life, the right to memory, justice, truth and freedom, rights that are violated all the time with the discourse of the war on drugs” (p. 22).   

The State, which should be the guarantor of rights, does not fulfill its constitutional duty, omitting itself and violating the rights of residents, especially in matters related to the policy of wars on drugs and incarceration (MELCHIADES, 2021). 

The promulgation of the Federal Constitution in 1988 did not prevent the violation of fundamental guarantees and social rights from being a hallmark of formal democracy in Brazil. Homes are invaded without the respective court order, going in the opposite direction to what article 5, item XI of the Federal Constitution says about the inviolability of the home and about the honor and privacy of the person. The principle of isonomy, described in the 5th of CF/1988, guarantees “equality among all citizens, without distinction of any kind, guaranteeing the inviolability of the Right to life, liberty, equality, security and property”, but the question asked is: why does this right not apply in the Favela? And why is the supposed fight against drug trafficking above the right to life, property and privacy?

The presence of security forces causes panic, fear, anxiety and uncertainty in the lives of mothers in the periphery of Brazil, Commerce, schools, the health center stop their activities and residents cannot exercise their right to “come and go”. ”, staying inmates in their homes and saying their prayers so that they are no longer a victim of a “stray bullet” or have their property violated.

The Popular Public Security Forum of Rio de Janeiro (FPOPSEG), a space for political articulation of social movements and civil society organizations, including ISER, presented in 2022 its popular manifesto against State violence and for good living, pointing out how the war on drugs discourse linked to the current public security policy produces deaths and violence in black territories and favelas in Rio de Janeiro. 

It is in this dimension of struggles for freedom and for the realization of central rights for the effective democratization of the country, that it remains fundamental to resist the illusions of punitive state control as a solution to the country's social dilemmas, The conditions of the female prison system are precarious and to institutionalize motherhood is not the solution. After more than a century of the enslavement process in the country, the portrait of mothers in prison in Brazil is the portrait of black women, from the favelas and from the periphery. This is also the portrait of mothers who lost their children to police violence, it is the portrait of mothers who have their sons and daughters incarcerated. It is these women, mothers, sisters, wives, daughters, who in and out of prison, after all, who stand up for their own, turning the fight into a fight (OLIVEIRA, 2021). Much of society that in recent years has clamored in favor of the family is the same part that endorses hatred of the families of women and mothers incarcerated. Happy Mothers Day? Christiane Pinagé, mother of a prison survivor, asked herself this question in May 2020. In 2023, we continue to question: ''Which women have the right to celebrate this day? 

Bibliographic references

BRAZIL. Law No. 13,434, of April 12, 2017. Presidency of the Republic. It adds a single paragraph to article 292 of Decree-Law No. 3689, of October 3, 1941 (Code of Criminal Procedure), to prohibit the use of handcuffs on pregnant women during childbirth and on women during the immediate postpartum period. Available in <L13434 (planalto.gov.br)>. Access on 10 May. 2023.

Land, Work and Citizenship Institute (ITTC). Maternity without Prison: diagnosis of the application of the Legal Framework for Early Childhood for the release of women. Instituto Terra, Trabalho e Cidadania. – São Paulo: ITTC, 2019. Available at <maternityemprisao-aplicacao-marco-legal.pdf (ittc.org.br)>. Access on 10 May. 2023.

______. Maternity in prison: looking at migrant women in conflict with the law. ITTC Blog. São Paulo. 08 May 2020. Available at: <Maternity in prison: looking at migrant women in conflict with the law – Instituto Terra, Trabalho e Cidadania – ITTC>. Access on 10 May. 2023.

National Survey of Penitentiary Information – INFOPEN WOMEN. 2nd. Edition. Brasília: Ministry of Justice and Public Security/National Penitentiary Department, 2018. Available at <INFOPEN WOMEN 2018.pdf (usp.br)>. Access on 10 May. 2023.

Popular manifesto against state violence and for Good Living. Popular Public Security Forum of Rio de Janeiro. Rio de Janeiro. June 28, 2022. Available at: <https://fpopseg.org/2022/06/28/hello-world/>. Access on 10 May. 2023. 

MELCHIADES, ERIVELTO. The current drug policy and incarceration in times of pandemic in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. In: BARROUIN, NINA et al (ORG). Covid in Prisons: pandemic and fight for justice in Brazil (2020 – 2021). – Rio de Janeiro: Institute of Religious Studies – ISER, 2021. p. 19.

OLIVEIRA, PATRICIA. Relatives of victims of state violence in struggle. In: BARROUIN, NINA et al (ORG). Covid in Prisons: pandemic and fight for justice in Brazil (2020 – 2021). – Rio de Janeiro: Institute of Religious Studies – ISER, 2021. p. 19.

PINAGE, CHRISTINE. Happy Mothers Day?. In: BARROUIN, NINA et al (ORG). Covid in Prisons: pandemic and fight for justice in Brazil (2020 – 2021). – Rio de Janeiro: Institute of Religious Studies – ISER, 2021. p. 19.

VIEIRA, ELIENE ; PINE FATIMA. The struggle of mothers against the genocide of black youth in and out of prison. In: BARROUIN, NINA et al (ORG). Covid in Prisons: pandemic and fight for justice in Brazil (2020 – 2021). – Rio de Janeiro: Institute of Religious Studies – ISER, 2021. p. 20-23.