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Impunity and Violence

Researchers verify that the percentage of violent crimes converted into prison punishment of the accused is extremely low

MIGUEL BOYAYANThe prestige of the graffiti writers helped in the consolidation of the forums for adolescents MIGUEL BOYAYAN

The model of Justice that is supposed to protect Brazilians is weakened. Over the past five years, of the 600,000 crimes registered in sixteen police precincts in the city of São Paulo, the indications are that only a small percentage could result in punishment with the imprisonment of the accused. This is because, of a total of 338,600 crimes, violent and non-violent, analyzed during the period, only 21,800 were the object of a police investigation. It is estimated, based on data from other studies, that of these investigations, 40% come to be dropped.

If this statistic is confirmed then only 13,100 crimes become formal charges turned over to the Public Attorney for prosecution and listened to by the judicial authority. “Some will be dismissed through lack of evidence, for example, and possibly something around 5% of the crimes analyzed will result in a prison term “, says Sérgio Adorno, the coordinator of the Center for Studies of Violence (USP), one of the ten Research, Innovation and Diffusion Centers (Cepids) financed by FAPESP. “In France for every 20 violent crimes, 19 tend to merit punishment”, he compares.

The numbers that are being revealed by the research Identification and Measurement of Indices of Penal Impunity are not that surprising. Another survey, about murders of children and adolescents, carried out in São Paulo between 1991 and 1994 and already concluded, revealed rates of the conversion of crime into punishment at only 1.72%. Certainly, this picture is aggravated by the disorganization and lack of resources of the police to carry out investigations. “The majority of the crimes are of unknown origin”, Adorno observes. But also they can be related to the profile of the victim or of the aggressor, or to the nature of the crime suspect.

“And it could have to do with obstacles confronted by the defendants having access to penal Justice, including the very guarantee of the right of defense. Paradoxically, it could even be related to subterfuge procedures, such as an excess of procrastinating resources that delay the application of penalties”, Adorno adds. The result is that impunity helps to sustain crime and also feeds fear. The research is on course. It is part of an even broader project being developed by the center, in which the crisis in Brazilian Justice is being evaluated, including through historic studies of policies for public safety implemented in São Paulo since 1822 until today, through normative and official documents.

In the case of impunity, the researchers equally based themselves on official statistics, but also had to opt for other methodological procedures. “In countries with reliable statistics, the flow of the criminal justice system produces statistics through all segments – police, judicial and in the execution of the sentences -, which allows one to observe the movement of registered crimes, charges and lawsuits and convictions “, he explains. In Brazil, however, continues Adorno, the available statistics, besides being incomplete, do not allow a follow up.

As a function of the extension and volume of the information, it was necessary to restrict the survey to a single section of the police who coordinates the performance and the activities of the police precincts in the West, Northeast, and South zones of the city, in a total of fourteen police precincts and two specialized police precincts. Instead of accompanying the general movement of crimes, they turned to the individualized observation of the logs as a way of pursuing their destiny in the interior of the criminal justice system.

“We made a detailed and critical study of the primary police registers, in such a way as to close in on the crimes that effectively interested the observation, or that is to say, homicide, robbery, robbery followed by death, rape, drug trafficking, considered to be violent crimes”, he explains. The first part of the research is practically concluded. In the second phase, there will be a detailed study of the police inquiries and penal processes.

Risk situation
Since 1987, the Center for Studies of Violence (USP) has been analyzing violence and human rights violations in the country and developing studies on themes such as public safety policies and the participation of the community in the solution of violence. Currently, it is developing five lines of research among them the project The Identification and Measurement of the Rates of Penal Impunity, coordinated by Adorno.

Just like the study on impunity, the major difficulty for the researchers of the other projects, lies in the collection of data. It is known that in São Paulo the homicide rate corresponds to 186.7 deaths for every 100,000 adolescents between the ages of fifteen and nineteen years, and 262.2 deaths for every 100,000 citizens older than twenty-four years, according to statistics for the periods 1995 and 1998, respectively. But little is known about the perpetrators and very little about the victim, beyond their place of residence and death cause.

The registers of the justice department, the police or of the health system don’t throw light about the nature of this violence, don’t inform about the group responsible for the homicide, nor even give any hint whether there was a relationship between those involved. And, in this muggy gray area, it is impossible to know the potential victims or the circumstances that favor homicide, and even less, to implement efficient policies for combating it. Nevertheless, the statistics reveal some standards and show that some districts of São Paulo have levels of homicide higher than the city average, and which are growing at a higher rate than at the whole of ninety-eight districts that make up the city.

Between 1996 and 2000, for example, while the average rate of homicide for the capital grew from 55.6 per 100,000 inhabitants to 66.9, the district of Jardim Angela had already registered the mark of 116.23 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants. This disparity was observed in various districts of the city. The numbers and the geographic distribution of the occurrences suggest that the regions with high rates of homicide were equally those with the highest concentration of poverty.

Based on this data, the researchers from the Center initiated geo-referencing research on the violence. They verified that it was not the high concentration of the poor population that was responsible for the high murder rates. The scenario of violence registered high concentrations of adolescents between eleven and fourteen years and between fifteen and nineteen years, a large number of heads of families with less than four years of schooling and/or without income, low level of local employment opportunities, infantile mortality rate higher than average, absence of hospitals in the region, less access to sewage and with highly congested home conditions, that is less privacy, greater tension and competition for space. “Various studies have already proven that by dividing scanty areas, people become more insensitive, even for their own defense, but in the end this situation affects the statistics of criminality”, explains Nancy Cardia, the vice-coordinator and the person responsible for the Cepid’s diffusion program.

However, lethal violence superimposes itself over the violation of social and economic rights and this combination of factors entangle themselves to form a type of vicious circle of deprivations and violence. Employment is scarce in the areas of high rates of homicide and the alternative for the heads of families is in the informal labor market, with irregular employment, poor remuneration, and subject to periods of prolonged unemployment. Forced inactivity can increase the tension within the family, alcohol abuse and tends to favor violence. In fact, in the twenty-four city districts where there are many heads of family without income, studies show that violence increases. “These districts have 49% of all of the heads of family without income. It is a super representation”, Nancy sums up.

The researchers also identified a weakening in the links between the social groups and the institutions for social protection. “The institutional links between the population and the authorities are characterized by tension, mutual suspicion and even almost non-existence”, says Nancy. For example, this absence of links shows itself in situations such as a lynching. “A lynching appears as something that happens on the spur of the moment, but, when the case is investigated, it is possible to state that the population had previously mobilized itself in similar situations, without having obtained the support or protection of the authorities. The means for finding a solution to the problem had been exhausted, they felt impotent and were driven to violence”, Adorno completes.

In this scenario, the presence of many children and young people in a situation of the concentration of poverty and of social want, make them extremely vulnerable to the possibility of being victims or the aggressors. “The age bracket between eleven and fourteen years is very exposed to the situation of the most severe type of violence: parents, as well as school, already consider that he or she can live on their own and they end up without any type of supervision”, Nancy states.

In the moments when they are becoming adults, these young people end up adopting risky behavior, frequently involving themselves in situations of delinquency, alcoholism, drug use, among others. Or they become easy targets in conflicts for fruitless motives such, for example, fights with neighbors because of a broken window, loud music etc. “The problem resides in identifying what social situations are more associated with risk, in such a way that the governments and civil society associations can promote prevention programs”, advises Nancy.

Defenseless victims
On identifying the most defenseless victims, researchers from the Cepid began to work in a school in the Jardim Angela district with children between the ages of eleven and fourteen years, in an attempt to develop models for managing conflict. These meetings were named by the living together forum as “who wants to come, comes”, Nancy says. “We discussed the quality of life, violence, criminality, conflict between men and women, relations with friends during the school break, among other situations, and the advantage of doing things together”, she says.

The intention of the researchers is to initiate these young people in the resolution of small conflicts, following a model developed by the Canadian researcher Clifford Shearing to deal with violence in housing estates in Toronto, Canada, and which was adapted to mediate tension in the ghettos of South Africa and in needy communities in the town of Rosario in Argentina. “When the community begins to settle internal conflicts, it gains much more power to negotiate with the authorities on its situation”, Nancy explains. Before starting the groups, a work proposal was presented to the teachers, the parents and to the students themselves, who visited the headquarters of the Center for Studies of Violence (USP), installed at the University of São Paulo (USP).

Besides these teenagers, the researchers also worked through living together forums with adults and the graffitists of the region. “The people didn’t see themselves as a community, partly because of the day to day violence and of their economic needs”, Nancy explained. The graffiti writers, in fact, helped in the consolidation of the groups of adolescents that were rejected by the other students in the school. “The graffiti writers are respected and this gives them prestige”, the researcher explained. The expectation is that, if they learn to deal with incidents of personal violence, they will be stronger to negotiate with the authorities.

The Center has also implanted violence observatories in four communities, in order to debate the problem from the perspective of the victims. And is also developing five educational projects having violence as their central theme, directed towards pedagogical guidance counselors within the municipal and state teaching networks, among others, as well as a distance learning project in partnership with the Future School. “Now we are training a team from Mozambique, in collaboration with the World Health Organization, in an inter-ministerial project that brings together programs on epidemiological vigilance, prevention and evaluation of violence.”