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Lawmakers Aim to Lower Age of Criminal Responsibility

Lawmakers Aim to Lower Age of Criminal Responsibility

When it comes to criminal punishment, Brazil can claim an unenviable distinction: it has the fourth largest prison population in the world. Only the United States, China, and Russia imprison more people, according to The Rio Times. But those numbers could soon change as an amendment to the Brazilian constitution could result in increasing the prison population even more.

Lawmakers have approved a proposal to lower the age of criminal responsibility in Brazil, allowing teenagers as young as 16 to be tried as adults for the most serious offenses, such as murder and rape. As an amendment to the constitution, the bill must pass through both the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. While standard legislation requires a simple majority plus one, a constitutional amendment requires at least two-thirds of the vote.

A version of the bill to lower the age of criminal responsibility originally fell short of the total votes needed for passage. Yet a new version of the bill secured enough votes. The new bill eliminated drug trafficking and aggravated robbery, among other offenses, from the list of crimes, and resulted in some lawmakers switching their votes, The Guardian reported. The bill must now go to a second round of voting at the Chamber of Deputies before it goes to the Senate.

Brazil’s prison population now stands at 615,933, according to research from Brazil’s Ministry of Justice. That total represents a doubling of inmates over the past ten years, attributed to the rise of criminals imprisoned for drug trafficking. If the proposed bill becomes law, children as young as 16, if convicted, will be sent to adult jails for their crimes.

Supporters of the bill say that lowering the age of criminal responsibility will deter criminal acts, adding that teenagers who commit serious crimes often only serve short sentences under the current system, the BBC reported. But opponents of the bill argue that the change would put Brazils’ youth at risk.

The law would result in the prison system taking on an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 youths per year, according to the Ministry of Justice research. Rather than repenting, some youth might become hardened criminals while incarcerated, according to comments from Justice Minister José Eduardo Cardozo. Cardozo said that the negative influence of hardened criminals would make some Brazilian jails “crime schools” for imprisoned youth.

Whether or not lawmakers agree to lower the age of criminal responsibility or not, one thing is certain. A concerted effort to decrease crime in the major cities is necessary for Brazil’s overall development as a nation.