economy and politics

Privileges in prisons: a matter of corruption or human dignity?

Prisons in Colombia

In some prisons in Colombia, it is knowndo that people deprived of liberty can obtain some benefits. For example, choosing which prison to go to, paying for different treatment, having access to some comforts in their cells, or even illegally accessing cell phones and other technological equipment.

(Read: 2,000 prisoners arrive at the Bukele mega-prison where they charge for food and more).

According to Fernando Tamayo Arboleda, professor at the law school and director of the Prison Group of the Legal Clinic of the Universidad de los Andes, this is due to three factors.

The first is corruption present in different state institutions.According to the corruption perception index, Colombia is ranked 87th among 180 countries evaluated in corruption perception. This implies a broad recognition by Colombians of the institutional crisis of various state agencies.“Tamayo says.

In this sense, Corruption reaches judges or officials in charge of making decisions about places of imprisonment and people with political, economic or social capital can have influence over them.

Prisons in Colombia

Juan Pablo Rueda. TIME

The second is a matter of security and penitentiary government. That is, prisons replicate the living conditions of society. Its inequalities and multidimensional poverty that entails a social stratification.

(Also: Former producer Harvey Weinstein: 16 more years in prison for abuse).

This reproduction of life abroad is facilitated, for example, to the extent that it is easier for prison officers —who are usually too few to supervise a huge number of people— to monitor populations with a certain degree of homogeneity , so they usually separate people by type of crime, social class, level of education, among other issues“, points out the expert.

The third thing is that the precarious conditions in prisons make it easier for political, economic or social power to be put to the benefit of the inmates. “To the extent that the State fails to meet the needs of the population deprived of liberty, a market is created within prisons to make up for institutional failures,” says Tamayo.

Accordingly, there are inmates who not only have greater benefits, but also profit from the need of other inmates to meet their needs, according to the expert.

However, Tamayo also recognizes that it is not an easy problem to solve or that it is a matter of reinforcing the law. For him a profound reform of the prison system is necessary.

Of course, corruption is an issue that must be addressed. However, it is not just a problem of corrupt officials. The matter covers severe institutional problems, such as the shortage of guard personnel, the lack of prison spaces, and the inadequacy of prison life to minimum conditions of human dignity“says the expert.

(Keep reading: Jail will charge its inmates for each day they are in cells.)

La Picota Prison

La Picota Prison

Mauricio Moreno. TIME

The question, then, It would fall on why privileges are not democratized for all those deprived of liberty. Tamayo explains that privileges in prison are not always for the entry of criminals or holding parties. The reality shows that they focus on choosing a place of confinement to be in “better prisons”, closer to their family, access to work or education programs, or acceptable living conditions (such as drinking water, showers, beds or adequate food ).

The question should not be how to end privileges, but how to extend them to the entire population deprived of liberty. Ultimately, the issue is that, many times, when we talk about privileges we are really talking about rights. The problem, then, is not that they exist, but that, since they are not guaranteed for everyone, they become the object of trade“Tamayo says.

Gaps in the regulation of the prison system

One of the key improvements is reorganize alternative mechanisms to prison to prevent people who commit minor crimes from ending up in detention centers.

(Also: Iranian footballer will not be executed: he was sentenced to 26 years in prison).

The second thing, according to Tamayo, is to reform the reintegration mechanisms inside and outside the prison. “This implies the strengthening of study and work programs inside prisons, as well as the possibilities for people to leave prison early and conditionally.“, he points out.

Along with it, look for institutions that support the social reintegration of prisoners. For the expert, the success of a reform to the prison system will depend on a strong budgetary investment.

“Regulation must, in any case, be accompanied not only by mechanisms to reinforce its application, but also by mechanisms for social transformation both inside and outside prisons. Without this, no matter how many regulations exist, it cannot be transformed or the penitentiary reality, nor the reality of the country”, he assures.


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