Behind bars: the burden of being a woman in Brazilian prisons

BMC Int Health Hum Rights. 2020 Oct 29;20(1):28. doi: 10.1186/s12914-020-00247-7.


Background: Brazil has the third largest prison population in the world. In 2016, the female prison population totaled 42,000, an increase of 656% over the population recorded in the early 2000s. The objective of this study was to describe the socialeconomic and reproductive health of women in Brazilian prisons, and the specific assistance received within the prison system.

Methods: This is a first of its kind national survey conducted in 15 female prisons in eight Brazilian states between 2014 and 2015. The sample consisted of 1327 women in closed or semi-open prison regimes. Data collection used Audio Computer-Assisted Self-Interviewing (ACASI). STATA v.15. Was use in analysis. The study was submitted to the Research Ethics Committee of the Federal University of Ceará, under CEP protocol No. 1,024,053.

Results: The population was overwhelmingly Black or Brown, poor and little educated. When women worked previously, they had worked as domestic servants and were the sole source of income for their families. Most were mothers, with 39% having children less than 10 years old, now in the care of others. Most were in jail for drug-related crimes. Prisons were crowded, with more than 2/3rds of the inmates sharing a cell with 6 or more inmates. Services were provide, but women had not had a cervical cancer screening within the past 3 years and breast cancer screening was not conducted.

Conclusions: Overall, given their backround and prison conditions they are unlikely to change the circumstances that brought them to prison in the first place.

Keywords: Community health; Prisons; Reproductive health; Women.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Brazil
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Early Detection of Cancer*
  • Female
  • Health Services Accessibility
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Prisoners / statistics & numerical data*
  • Prisons*
  • Reproductive Health / ethnology*
  • Uterine Cervical Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Young Adult