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Because Fernando de Noronha gathered slave, free civilian, and military convicts from across Brazil, it offers a unique perspective on the significance of civil condition and color in imperial penology. The prosecution of slave crime has received attention in regional studies, but few follow slave criminals into prisons to examine how authorities enforced their sentences. In 1881, the Justice Ministry ordered the penal colony’s commander to conduct a survey of slave convicts. He interviewed 264 slave convicts and recorded data that, along with other records, make it possible to sketch their collective biography and assess their place in the penal system. The survey itself became part of a bureaucratic struggle in the 1880s over how to punish slave convicts that makes its construction even more revelatory of the Brazilian preference for integration in basic state institutions like prisons and military enlisted ranks.

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