Whenever a shocking crime is reported in the news in Brazil, social media fills with calls for laws for harsher punishment. That is especially true when the suspects are adolescents. Given Brazil’s high levels of violence, it is understandable that many people feel unsafe. And it makes perfect sense that they call for the authorities to do more to protect them.
So now the Brazilian Senators are debating a Constitutional amendment that would allow trying and punishing some 16-and 17-year-olds as adults.
Proponents of the amendment claim that these children would be tried and punished as adults only in “specific and extraordinary” cases, such as for homicide, kidnapping, rape, and repeat offenses of armed robbery. In the state of São Paulo, about 40 percent of children held in detention this year were accused of armed robbery.
Institutions against the measure argue that it embraces an approach to juvenile offenders that is not only ineffective, but a very likely self-defeating. Human Rights Watch, for instance, argues that time in prison can make children more likely to fall into a life of crime as adults. They emphasize that studies in the United States show that adolescents tried and punished in the criminal system are more likely to commit crimes once they are released.
The amendment has been approved by the House of Representatives.