Prison Without Rules Resembles the Playboy Mansion

Visitors go to Venezuelan prison for 'sinful' weekend partying

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The New York Times offers a profile of the curious San Antonio prison in Venezuela, where more than 2,000 Venezuelans and foreigners are held largely for drug trafficking. Although guards around the prison prevent the escape of inmates, inside there are no rules. The sexes mix freely in what, according to the Times, resembles a "Hugh Hefner-inspired fleshpot." Describes the Times:

Bikini-clad female visitors frolic under the Caribbean sun in an outdoor pool. Marijuana smoke flavors the air. Reggaetón booms from a club filled with grinding couples. Paintings of the Playboy logo adorn the pool hall. Inmates and their guests jostle to place bets at the prison’s raucous cockfighting arena.

Some cells are equipped with air-conditioning and DirecTV satellite dishes. Even visitors can go for sinful weekend partying. Others go to buy drugs, as they are only searched before entering the prison. But there is a darker side to this prison as well: inmates with BlackBerries and laptops have arranged drug deals, abductions, and murders from their cells, the police told the Times. Some inmates walk the prison grounds grasping assault rifles.

The prison may not sound punitive, but has this mini-society without rules descended into a Hobbesian state of nature? Inmates explained that escapes are rare, and that peace generally prevails. On the other hand, human rights researchers indicate that about one percent of the nation’s entire prison population was killed last year alone.

The Venezuelan government concedes that it has lost control of the prison, following recent takeovers by inmates in protest of mistreatment. After four inmates were hospitalized due to injuries suffered while being taken to the courts, the prisoners held the warden and 14 others hostage for over a day, the AP reported. In an earlier instance, a takeover was held after a tuberculosis outbreak. But widespread corruption and institutional disarray make significant improvements unlikely.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.