This paper sheds light on some analytical and empirical elements of a dispute that occurred in São Paulo under the Franco Montoro administration. During that time, the “humanization of prisons” movement was the subject of a series of accusations regarding the existence of a group organized by prisoners, called the “Black Serpents”. The group supposedly benefitted from the humanization policies in state prisons. The denunciation of the “Black Serpents” - analyzed here from the perspective of the sociological concept of “moral panic” - was a key event in the political struggle that was then being waged around democratic reforms, with undeniable repercussions on contemporary political discourse.
Moral panic; Black Serpents; Human rights; Humanization polices; Prisons