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Brazil: Does Crime Pay? The Truth About Reclusion Benefits

[All links lead to Portuguese language pages]

The Brazilian government’s initiative to offer benefits to prisoners’ family members and dependents has prompted discussion in online citizen media. Created in 2003, with a base value of R$ 560,81 (US$ 374.00), the ‘Reclusion-Benefit's’ total value has been readjusted since then, and nowadays is fixed at R$ 862,60 (US$ 575.00).

This “benefit owed to the dependents of those brought to prison, during the period in which the person remains imprisoned in a closed or semi-open regime” was made know at the end of 2009 via a chain email, which still today circulates around the Internet affirming that:

todo presidiário com filhos tem direito a uma bolsa que para sustentar a família, já que o coitadinho não pode trabalhar para sustentar os filhos por estar preso.

Every prisoner with children has the right to a benefit in order to sustain family, since the poor little person cannot work to provide for the children, due to being arrested.
Prison, Bahia state, Brazil. Photo by Gov/Ba on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Prison, Bahia state, Brazil. Photo by Gov/Ba on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The satirical tone that follows the words serves as propaganda against social projects, such as Fome Zero (Zero Hunger) and Bolsa Familia (Family Allowance), which became popular in Brazil since the election of former president, Lula da Silva. His government, characterised by a more social management, tried to reduce the inequality among social classes through these benefits, creating a certain controversy because of the lack of incentives to the sustainability of lower classes.

Uncovering the benefit

Though the content of the circulating email makes clear that propaganda against the reclusion-benefit exists, some bloggers decided to seek the truth behind these affirmations.

In the very email, a link to Brazil’s Previdência Social (Social Security) is provided, confirming the total value published in the email; however, the value corresponds to the last imprisoned individual’s contribution-salary. In other words, only those that were already contributing to Previdência Social before being arrested are entitled to the Reclusion-Benefit.

An article published in 2010 by then journalism student Jean Takada on the site Atibaia News, was widely shared on the blogosphere with the objective of clarifying the “show of mistakes in the network” and further elaborate on the benefit:

Na verdade o Auxílio Reclusão não é um projeto aprovado para ajudar os presos e seus filhos. É uma ajuda prevista no inciso IV do artigo 201 da Constituição Federal, que diz que a Previdência Social deve pagar o auxílio reclusão para dependentes dos “segurados” de baixa renda recolhidos ao Sistema Penitenciário Nacional (…) e só vale para pessoas com trabalho comprovado em carteira ou contrato que comprove contribuição ao INSS. Para a família ou dependentes ter direito à ajuda, o último salário deve ser igual ou menor a R$ 798,30 (…) e não pode estar recebendo outros benefícios como auxílio doença, aposentadoria ou abono de permanência em serviço.

In truth the Reclusion-Benefit isn’t a project approved to assist prisoners and his children. It is an aid foreseen in subsection IV of article 210 of the Federal Constitution, which claims that the Previdência Social must pay the reclusion benefit to the low-income insured’s dependents taken into the National Prison System (…) and it’s only valid for people with a proven work status or a contract that proves contribution to the Social Security. For the families or dependents to have a right of aid, the last salary must be equal or inferior to R$ 798,30 (…) and can’t be receiving other welfares like sickness benefit, pension or tax refunds for public workers.

The greater theme sustained by the email (without the proper explanation regarding the functionality of the Reclusion-Benefit) is that welfare would be an incentive to criminality since any,

bandido com 5 filhos, além de comandar o crime de dentro das prisões, comer e beber nas costas de quem trabalha e/ou paga impostos, ainda tem direito a receber auxílio reclusão de R$3.991,50 da Previdência Social.

criminal with 5 children, besides commanding crime from within the prisons, eat and drink at the expense of those that work and/or pay taxes, still has the right to receive the reclusion benefit of R$ 3.991,50 (US$ 2,660.00) from Previdência Social.

The site E-Farsas, from researcher Gilmar Lopes, dedicated to uncovering the truth regarding Internet farces, begins clarifying that this total value is impossible to be given,

o benefício é único e independente da quantidade de filhos que o preso possui. Não importa se ele tem 4 ou 5 dependentes. O valor do auxílio é sempre o mesmo. Também é bom ressaltar aqui que a ajuda não é dada ao preso e sim à sua família.

the benefit is exclusive and independent from the amount of children that the prisoner has. It doesn’t matter whether he has 4 or 5 dependents. The benefit’s value is always the same.  It’s also important to note that the aid is provided to the prisoner’s family, and not the prisoner himself.

Maybe part of the email’s controversy derives from the fact that the Brazilian prison population has tripled in the past 15 years, causing a greater public expense with the sector. According to data from 2010 and posted on ExpressoMT, Brazil,

tem uma população carcerária de 494.237 presos. Desse total, 153.526 são provisórios, 172.942 cumprem pena em regime fechado, 64.717 em regime semiaberto e 16.315 em regime aberto. O sistema prisional tem hoje cerca de 60 mil agentes penitenciários.

has a prison population of 494.237 prisoners. Out of this total, 153.526 are temporary, 172.942 serve time in closed regime, 64.717 in semi-open regime and 16.315 in open regime. The prison system currently has around 60 thousand prison officers.

Independently from numbers or values, an individual’s imprisonment is directly related to human rights matters. Without the responsible guardian being able to provide for his family, it’s up to the government to provide this basic benefit, as long as it’s within the contributor’s rights.

Prison, Bahia state, Brazil. Photo by Gov/Ba on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Prison, Bahia state, Brazil. Photo by Gov/Ba on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

According to Igor Fonseca Rodrigues, from the blog Pensando Direito (Thinking Right),

em sendo um seguro, na verdade o preso que recebe o auxílio-reclusão não está recebendo nada além do que aquilo pelo qual já pagou.

Logo, não se trata de um gracioso favor prestado pelo governo, mas sim o pagamento daquilo que estava antecipadamente previsto na legislação.

in being an insurance, the prisoner that receives the reclusion-benefit, in truth is not receiving anything beyond what he hasn’t paid already.

Hence, it’s not about a gracious favor being provided by the government, but rather a payment of what was previously foreseen in the constitution.

The article published on the website, finished with the following thought:

óbvio, nada contra discutir se é o melhor para a sociedade brasileira que esse benefício exista, mas pelo menos devemos nos pautar pelo que efetivamente está previsto, e não por um conceito imaginário do que seria essa benesse.

obviously, nothing against discussing if it’s better for the Brazilian society to have this benefit, but at least we should base our claims on what was effectively foreseen, and not by an imaginary concept of what this benefit would be.

With this final reflection, several commentaries resulted, ranging from those that support the government’s measure to those that are opposed to the benefit. Among them, the commentary signed by Racquel Gaia says:

A questão não é se o detento matou, seqüestrou, roubou, extorquiu, etc. A questão é: ele trabalhou, contribui para a previdência, logo ele adquiriu o direito de receber todos os benefícios advindos da previdência social. Se qualquer um de nós for preso (não importa o motivo), mas contribuímos para a previdência, então qualquer um de nós tem o direito a receber qualquer auxílio do INSS, não importa quem somos ou o que fizemos, importa é que pagamos, então adquirimos o direito.

The matter is not if the prisoner killed, kidnapped, stole, extorted, etc. The question is: he worked, contributed to the social security, hence he has acquired the right to receive all benefits provided by social welfare. If any of us is arrested (regardless of the motive), but we contribute to the social security, then any of us has the right to receive any benefit from Social Welfare, regardless of whom we are and what we’ve done, what matters is that we paid, so we’ve acquired the right.

Another commentator, Mario Costa, points out:

Realmente, a familia do presidiário não pode ser punida pelo que ele fez. Porém, ninguém aqui tocou no assunto : o presidiário deveria trabalhar na cadeia, para prover seu próprio sustento. É facil viver à nossas expensas. Compare: se o segurado morrer, até a despesa do enterro é da familia, recebendo um pequeno auxilio funeral. Se o segurado ficar doente, vai ter que viver (ele e sua família) com o auxilio doença. Se ele for preso, só vai dar despesa, como comida, roupa, escolta para ser ouvido, etc… e a família recebe o auxilio reclusão. Isso é igualdade?

Really, the prisoner’s family can’t be punished for what he has done. However, nobody here has touched this subject: the prisoner should work from prison, to provide for his own support. It’s easy to live at our expenses. Compare: if the insured dies, even the funeral’s expenses are the family’s, receiving a small funeral benefit. If the insured gets sick, he will have to live (him and his family) with the sickness benefit. If he gets arrested, there will only be expenses, like food, clothing, hearing sessions, etc… and the family receives the reclusion benefit. Is that equality?

Based on the other commentaries, a certain “reclusion” among prisoners and commentators transpires. It maybe a direct reflection of values projected by Brazilian society, but there is a general understanding of superiority expressed by those who enjoy complete freedom, leading to believe that the Reclusion-Benefit is just another benefit provided to those who don’t deserve it.

So here is a question: “What’s your take on the Reclusion-Benefit?”


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