Criminal justice reform in Brazil: using evidence to address stigma
September 22, 2021

Laura Boeira highlights how Fiocruz Brasilia and Instituto Veredas helped the National Justice Council (CNJ) address the stigma former prisoners and their families face as they attempt to reintegrate into society. She also describes how funding from the Partnership for Evidence and Equity in Responsive Social Systems (PEERSS) catalyzed the team’s efforts. 

“National guidelines built from scratch based on our evidence synthesis to inform the work of professionals helping former prisoners and their families reintegrate.”

PEERSS Brazil team member

In Brazil, Partnership for Evidence and Equity in Responsive Social Systems (PEERSS) team members at Instituto Veredas and Fiocruz Brasília supported the National Justice Council (CNJ) in formulating guidelines to address the stigma former prisoners and their families face as they attempt to reintegrate into society.

Through a mapping of the evidence ecosystem in Brazil, conducted in late 2018, the  PEERSS team in Brazil identified the CNJ and its “Fazendo Justiça” (“Doing Justice”) program as key partners to improve the use of evidence-informed decision making. The National judiciary branch is active in helping advance the criminal justice system, gathering data, and developing strategies to address gaps. Instituto Veredas and Fiocruz Brasília identified a window of opportunity to work together with the CNJ team and applied for an Opportunity Fund from PEERSS (a funding mechanism designed to support partners in responding to policy windows). A team of public servants from the National School of Public Administration who had participated in a course about evidence-informed policy-making and evidence synthesis taught by the Veredas team in 2019 also joined the two PEERSS organizations in supporting the CNJ.

Between June 2019 and August 2020, the PEERSS team in Brazil engaged with criminal justice stakeholders, prioritized problems, and prepared an evidence synthesis of strategies to cope with social stigma that have been used to inform and launch new guidelines for a national network of Social Offices across the country. The Social Offices aim to assist former prisoners and their family members in reintegrating socially into society, with professionals helping to identify their needs and mobilizing appropriate stakeholders and social services. Staff members in the Social Offices will be required to take an online training course informed by the PEERSS team’s evidence brief on stigma, as a part of their formal training. So far, about 22 Social Offices have been set up across the country, and are training their staff with guidance from the evidence synthesis, and starting to welcome former prisoners. 

PEERSS funding allowed the Brazil team to respond to the Council’s needs in a timely manner, bypassing bureaucratic procurement barriers. It also  enabled the team  to demonstrate the value of using evidence to inform policy and practice decisions and the importance of stakeholder engagement. Once the Council understood the value of the team’s knowledge translation services, it decided to fund the adaptation of the evidence synthesis into an online course. PEERSS funding has been catalytic in opening doors to expand the evidence work with the Judiciary branch in Brazil.

I, Laura Boeira, from Instituto Veredas and PEERSS Brazil, am now developing a manual and the online training course modules and recently taught a Training the Trainers session that provided Social Office mentors with strategies for addressing stigma against former prisoners and their families. The PEERSS Brazil team continues to engage with the CNJ, which has a mandate until September 2022, on evidence needs for new criminal justice reform strategies currently in development. 

Laura Boeira is the Executive Director of Instituto Veredas, a Brazilian NGO dedicated to translating knowledge into public policies. She is the lead for the PEERSS team at Instituto Veredas.