Hastings International and Comparative Law Review


Nitin Sapra


Modern penitentiaries offer valuable insight on the core of society’s sensibilities, perceptions, and values. They shed light on the relation between the State and the citizenry, particularly the lower classes. Beyond its explicit reformative goals to the criminal justice system, the penitentiary functions to affect social policy through norms of decency and respect for human rights. From the unique architectural choices to the minute logistical details, a government makes choices that intimately speak on how it views its most vulnerable groups of individuals. The origins of the penitentiary offer insight into the circumstances that interweave to organize the social fabric of modern society. This paper seeks to compare the roles and uses of the penitentiary in shaping the citizens of Brazil, Scandinavian countries, and the U.S. Part I of this paper will review the historical origins of the penitentiary in Brazil as well as in the U.S. and Europe. It will explain what early reformers sought to achieve with the modernization of the penitentiary and explore the movements and actions undertaken to meet these demands. Part II posits that Brazil deviated from the U.S. and Europe in its efforts at criminal reform due to the interplay of three issues—Brazil’s severe lack of resources to realize its motivations, resistance from Brazilian elites to liberal reform, and the implications of Brazil’s legacy of slavery. Part III will analyze modern criminal justice dynamics at play in Scandinavia, Brazil, and the U.S. and will attempt to organize the implications of each nation’s historic roots in its modern policies.