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State must compensate prisoner in degrading situation, decides STF

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Brazilian Federal Supreme Court (STF) ruled that a prisoner subjected to a degrading situation and overcrowding prison is entitled to compensation from the State for moral damages. In the Extraordinary Appeal (RE) 580252, with acknowledged general repercussion, Justices upheld a decision which ordered a compesation of R$ 2.000,00 for a convicted person subjected to degrading conditions in prison.

In the case, the Public Defender of Mato Grosso do Sul (DP-MS) appealed against a judgment of the local Court of Justice (TJ- MS) on behalf of a prisoner sentenced to 20 years of imprisonment, serving sentence in Corumbá prison. The appellate court, although acknowledging that the sentence is being served "in degrading conditions due to the negligence of public bodies and agents”, understood that, in the trial of a motion for rehearing (an appeal against a nonunanimous appellate decision), there is no right, at that case, to payment of compensation for moral damages.

Following the rapporteur, late Justice Teori Zavascki, the Plenary granted the appeal. In his vote, declared in December 2014, the rapporteur upheld the duty of the State to pay the indemnity, set in the appeal at the amount of R$ 2.000,00. He recalled that the Supreme Court’s case-law recognizes the responsibility of the State for the physical and mental integrity of those who are under its custody. He also pointed out that the situation of the prison system in Mato Grosso do Sul, with a shortage of vacancies and damage to prisoners' fundamental rights, is notorious.


The Plenary also approved the following thesis, with general repercussion, mentioning the clause of the Federal Constitution that provides for the reparation of damages by the State:

"Once it is the duty of the State, imposed by the normative system, to maintain in its prisons the minimum standards of humanity established in the legal order, it is its responsibility, under article 37, paragraph 6, of the Constitution, the obligation to compensate the damages, including morals, proven to be caused to detainees as a result of the lack or insufficient legal conditions of incarceration”.

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