FAPESP Countdown: “Justice of Impunity”

The Brazil Institute is counting down to this year’s FAPESP Week (November 17-21), organized in collaboration with the São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP), UC Berkeley, and UC Davis. The symposium aims at strengthening the links between scientists from Brazil and the U.S. with the objective of promoting research partnerships. Find out more about the 2014 FAPESP Week in California here

Carlos Haag – Pesquisa FAPESP, 2014 Print Edition, Published in July 2013

A sentence from Cesare Beccaria’s 1764 classic On Crimes and Punishments is remarkably fitting today: “The certainty of a chastisement, even if it be moderate, will always make a greater impression than the fear of a more terrible punishment that is united with the hope of impunity.” Beccaria’s foresight captures current trends. “There’s a strong feeling in Brazil that irrespective of class, wealth, or power, crime has increased and grown more violent, but that there is impunity. At times like this, people think the solution is to have stiffer laws and longer prison terms,” says sociologist Sérgio Adorno, coordinator of the Center for the Study of Violence of the University of São Paulo (NEV-RIDC/USP), which is one of the 17 Research, Innovation and Dissemination Centers funded by the São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP).

“The feeling that impunity exists feeds distrust in the democratic institutions that are entrusted with enforcing law and order and with protecting civil rights, as provided for under the constitution, especially the right to safety,” says the researcher. But what are the true dimensions of this impunity? With this question in mind, NEV-RIDC conducted the research study Police investigations and the judicial process in São Paulo: the case of homicides, which is an outgrowth of the project Research on criminal impunity. The proposal was to analyze the flow of homicide cases from police report to sentencing. In addition to measuring criminal impunity, the study sought to identify the judicial and extrajudicial factors and the institutional mechanisms that favor the non-application of sentences for these crimes.

The basic numbers themselves reveal the magnitude of this impunity: only 60.13% of reported homicides were investigated. Consequently, no police investigations were on file for about 40% of the reports. While homicides rose 15.51%, the number of police investigations climbed just 7.48%. “This means the gap between the potential for more violence and the ability of the police force to investigate these crimes has widened, and this may find expression in people’s lack of confidence in the institutions entrusted with safeguarding the public order and enforcing law and order,” the sociologist points out.

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Article and photo courtesy of Revista Pesquisa FAPESP.


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