Saturday, September 29, 2012

'Hotel' La Modelo Prison

Prisoners crowd themselves against a cell door.
(Photo: Radio Santa Fe)

The news that Colombia may allow some prison inmates convicted of minor, non-violent crimes to leave prison during the day is a step toward a more humane, less destructive prison regimen.

I once read the observation that 'Battling crime by building more prisons is like combating mortality by building more cemeteries.'

That parallel is way off, but does capture some elements of reality. After all, imprisonment stifles lives, destroys families and creates universities of crime. It also costs society a fortune, both in the costs of incarceration and in the loss of productive workers.

But prisoners shouldn't just get free day passes out of jail. That would turn prisons into veritable hotels (albeit no-star ones), whose guests sleep and eat for free and can spend their days as they like - with a great temptation to return to crime.

Inmates in a prison patio. (Photo: El Diario)
Inmates should have to earn these benefits, as the policy proposal stipulates, thru good behavior and by doing constructive things in prison, such as working in prison industries. Once out, convicts should be required to hold real jobs, something which the prison system could help them with. After all, society is much better off when a person's working, supporting the economy and paying taxes, rather than rotting away behind locked doors on the government's tab.

As has been well documented, ex-inmates have difficult times integrating back into society and finding jobs, which is a big reason why many return to crime. This new policy, if carried out well, could reduce that problem.

Day passes will also help reduce Colombia's tremendous prison overcrowding, which produces wholesale human rights violations and will mean prison riots sooner or later. This story in El Universal says that one third more prisoners have been packed into Colombian prisons than they were designed to hold. Some, like Bogotá's El Modelo, hold more than double their designed capacity, El Tiempo reports.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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