Every year some 15 million people around the world spend time locked up in prison cells and detention centers while they await a court appearance. In many countries this is the time when detainees are most vulnerable to torture, violence, and abuse.
The Open Society Foundations supports the development of bail and supervision systems that can make pretrial detention an exception, and not the rule.
In Rio de Janeiro’s notorious police detention centers—the Polinter—detainees describe routine beatings and extortion at the hands of the police. Health care, food, and living space all come at a price. Even visits from relatives are impossible without a bribe.
Deize & Indaiá
Vinicius was a teenager when he was arrested for a robbery on the streets of Rio de Janeiro. Just hours after his arrest he was dead. His mother, Indaià, was told by the police that her son had fallen ill. The marks on his body told a different story.
Deaths like this are not aberrations. Beatings and other torture are common—even routine—in many detention facilities around the the world. Those most vulnerable are pretrial detainees—people who have not been tried or found guilty of any crime.
After killing a man in self-defense, Benson turned himself in to Malawi’s police. More than two years later, he was still waiting for a court hearing, while his body showed the scars from the long wait in Lilongwe’s main prison.
With over 15 million people moving through holding facilities every year, communicable diseases present in often overcrowded cells pass easily from detainee to detainee. When people are eventually released back to their communities, diseases such as HIV/AIDS and TB can be passed on to their friends and families.
Vinthenga was arrested after a fight on the street and sent to Malawi’s Maula prison. What happened to him shows the costs of being thrown into the limbo of indefinite pretrial detention—not just for the person held, but for their whole family.