As the spring semester gets underway at HRP, we’re already missing the fellowship and expertise of one of our colleagues: Fernando Ribeiro Delgado, JD ’08, Senior Clinical Instructor and Lecturer on Law, is now a Scholar in Residence at New York University School of Law.
Simply put, this is a big loss for us. Fernando is an expert on criminal justice in Brazil, which has one of the world’s worst records on mass incarceration. His clinical work went wide and deep; his teams used strategies ranging from litigation to fact-finding to negotiating with government officials to launching media campaigns.
Beyond the rigor and innovation that was the hallmark of Fernando’s work, there was another distinguishing factor: it was always collaborative. Throughout his seven years at the Clinic, he worked closely with local partners whom he considered not just colleagues but mentors: Justiça Global, Serviço Ecumênico de Militância nas Prisões, Pastoral Carcerária, and Comissão Justiça e Paz. He also nurtured relationships with prisoners’ families, corrections officials, and members of the media.
Most importantly, as described in the Harvard Law Bulletin last year, Fernando treated people who were incarcerated the way he treated everyone else: with kindness.
At NYU, Fernando will explore the link between state violence and corruption, a link he first documented with Justiça Global in the high-profile, book-length report, “São Paulo under Extortion: Corruption, Organized Crime, and Institutional Violence in May 2006.” That joint report, the culmination of a five-year investigation, explored the role of corruption in a series of coordinated uprisings in detention centers and attacks on police and public buildings that left 43 state officials and hundreds of civilians dead. The report also documented the wave of reprisal attacks by police, including extrajudicial killings of people they suspected of having arrest records—in many cases profiling victims’ youth, skin color, tattoos and presence on the streets of a poor neighborhood at night.
During his time in the Clinic, Fernando tackled a range of criminal justice issues in Brazil. His clinical team contributed comparative and international law research to a workshop that culminated with federal prosecutors filing the first-ever criminal charges for dictatorship-era human rights crimes. A case he argued before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (the Court) led to an investigation into juvenile justice system abuses, one which ultimately brought down an alleged corruption ring at the highest levels of state government.
He spent the great majority of his time, though, addressing rampant over-incarceration and abuse in prisons.
As part of a coalition, Fernando and his students focused on two notorious prisons: Urso Branco, which at one point suffered nearly 100 homicides over a five-year period, and Aníbal Bruno (Curado) Prison Complex, which holds over 6,000 men in space designated for less than 2,000.
There have been significant advances, starting with the Urso Branco case, in which parties before the Inter-American Court negotiated a large reform package that stipulated, among other measures, the hiring of public defenders; controls on the state use of firearms at the prison; investigation of a host of alleged abuses; and measures to prevent arbitrary and unlawful detention. Last year, state and federal prosecutors took the rare step of suing in domestic court to enforce that settlement of the international litigation.
In the Aníbal Bruno case, the coalition’s work helped spur a range of reforms, from a state ban on strip-searching prison visitors to broad reviews of the legality of prisoners’ detentions resulting in the release of hundreds. Most recently, in a landmark ruling, the Court issued an emergency order rebuking the state of Pernambuco for over-incarceration and ordering that immediate steps be taken to depopulate the facility.
Fernando always considered these wins through a critical lens, weighing them with his colleagues and his students as part of his ongoing questioning of what constitutes progress in the criminal justice system. It was that questioning that students often noted, whether in his Human Rights Advocacy seminar, his seminar on Human Rights and Criminal Justice, or the seminar on inter-American human rights law and practice that he co-taught in Costa Rica.
In 2015, the Women’s Law Association and Students for Inclusion celebrated him for it, giving him the Shatter the Ceiling award for excellence in integrating critical race theory into the curriculum. “Fernando examines how the prison industrial complex, from Brazil to Baltimore, is used as a tool to oppress communities of color and encourages his students to think critically about how the law is used to disenfranchise minority communities,” one student wrote in a nomination.
At the awards ceremony, Keaton Allen-Gessesse, JD ’16, had this to say to Fernando: “I thank you deeply – more than I can adequately articulate – for modeling the type of human rights advocate that I, and so many others in this room, aspire to be.”
We couldn’t have said it better ourselves. Thank you, friend. And best of luck.