Prisons and other closed custodial centers are often rife with abuses. Because of the vulnerability of those in state custody and the frequent lack of transparency of detention centers, conditions in these centers–which include jails, prisons, juvenile detention centers, and mental health institutions, among others– have constituted a major focus of the human rights movement for decades.
The International Human Rights Clinic pushes for transparency and accountability in detention centers while developing the core rights advocacy skills of our students. We have worked in and on detention centers throughout Latin America and in South Asia, often engaging small teams of students in on-site investigations within jails, penitentiaries and other custodial centers.
In addition to reports on prison abuse, as in this study on Panamanian prisons, the Clinic has pressed for improvements in penitentiaries through litigation, as in the case of this notorious Amazon prison and in the custodial death of Damião Ximenes Lopes. In the Ximenes Lopes case, a team from the Clinic participated in litigation before the Inter-American Court, leading not only to vindication of the victim’s claims and significant change in the Brazilian mental health system, but also groundbreaking jurisprudence on state duties to individuals with mental health disabilities.
In May 2011, Clinical Instructor and Lecturer on Law Fernando Delgado was the lead author of a book-length report documenting the central role of police brutality, corruption, and prison mismanagement in the widespread violence in São Paulo in May 2006. Jointly published with Brazil’s leading NGO, Justiça Global, São Paulo sob Achaque was released to significant media attention, making television and radio broadcasts, as well as the front pages of newspapers across the country.