RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Hundreds of mentally ill people inside Brazil's justice system have been kept behind bars in treatment centers for years or even decades longer than necessary, according to experts at a Tuesday seminar organized by Brazil's judicial oversight body.
Experts participating in four panels discussed how to better implement an 11-year-old law that requires mentally ill patients be released from the justice system as soon as they've served their time. That law changed a previous rule that allowed patients to be held indefinitely.
Judges at Tuesday's seminar said the 2001 law is often not implemented because patients' legal and clinical cases have not been adequately reviewed, or there are not enough resources to support them if they are released.
"When patients have served their time, they should leave the judicial system and be treated as an outpatient by the health system," said Luciano Andre Losekann, a judge and conference organizer. "But instead of leaving, many remain in the treatment centers. The health networks on the outside are often not prepared to take these patients."
Judges who participated in a recent overview of cases of mentally ill patients inside Brazil's criminal justice system found hundreds of people who should have been released years or decades ago.
The total number of patients who remained locked up longer than necessary has not yet been tallied. But judges determined that of the 431 cases they examined in Parana, a state in southern Brazil, 108 people had been held beyond their sentences.
"We found everything: people who had been released by a judge and were still held; people who had been pardoned but were never released," said judge Eduardo Lino Bueno Fagundes Jr., who had a list of cases he said represented the system's failings.
They included the case of Francisco Celestino, who was arrested in 1981, when he was 23. At the time, the judge found no conclusive evidence against him, but said there was a presumption that he was violent.
Under the previous penal code, Celestino was supposed to get a review within the first year, and be held for a maximum of three years. It wasn't until 1998, 17 years later, that his case was reviewed and he was found to not be dangerous.
But Fagunes said that by then, Celestino had no family and there were no adequate halfway houses or treatment centers where he could get the support he needed. He was shuttled around the system for another few years. Celestino's case was only uncovered in May, and he was finally released two weeks ago, after 31 years in the prison system.
Keeping mental health patients in the judicial system's treatment centers costs the state $1,300 a month. But Fagundes said that cost drops to $730 a month if the patient is moved to a halfway house, with part of the amount picked up by the federal government. If the patient can live with his relatives, the family can receive financial support in an arrangement that is cheaper for the state and better for the individual.