Top 10 Most Relaxed Prisons

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Prison, deriving from the Old French prisoun, is a place where those who have committed a crime are placed into physical confinement, and often lose certain personal rights. In the old days, prison was not an end in itself, and was generally used as a holding place for criminals until they were sent to receive corporal or capital punishment. In current times, prison is generally the penalty, and the length of time and freedoms lost vary greatly from crime to crime and from place to place. The United States leads the rest of the world in incarceration, with more than 1 out of every 100 adults currently in jail or prison. We’ve all heard horror stories of being locked up abroad, but there are some prisons throughout the world that seem more like vacation than incarceration. Let’s take a look at some places where crime truly does pay, in the form of luxury setups and relaxed confinements.

10. San Pedro Prison – La Paz, Bolivia

A prison that tourists can visit, stay in and purchase copious amounts of some of the finest and cheapest cocaine Bolivia has to offer? Welcome to San Pedro Prison, where prisoners rent their cells and their families are allowed to join them. Inmates hold jobs within the community and for 1500-1800 Bolivianos can purchase cells with private bathrooms, cable TV and a private kitchen. The majority of income comes from the sale of cocaine, which is actually produced in large laboratories within the compound. Inmates retain the right the vote in national elections, unlike most other countries, and make their own laws and rules within the prison. It seems like a lovely place to serve your time, unless you’ve decided to commit a crime against women or children, which is highly frowned upon and will often lead to your injury or death by the other inmates.

9. Nuuk Correctional Institution – Nuuk, Greenland

Greenland is the world’s largest island and also one of its harshest places to reside. Greenlanders don’t believe in punishment, but rather rehabilitation and re-socialization, which is why the country contains only open prisons. Locked up only between the hours of 9:30 PM and 6 AM, inmates, including murderers and rapists, are allowed to hold down jobs in the community, go shopping, and even go to a bar if they so choose. The only time they are accompanied by prison guards on these outside excursions is during weekend hunting trips, when they are allowed to carry guns. This open system makes sense when you take a look at Greenland’s history. Up until 1976 the island didn’t have a prison system of any kind, and those who committed crimes were sent to respected community fishermen in order to be re-educated and reintroduced into society. 80% of the population is Inuit, and criminals were not ostracized because they needed all the help they could get when it came to hunting and fishing in order to survive this cruel climate. Although some of the public disagrees with the open prison system, and plans for a combined open and closed system are underway and should be completed by 2013, a recidivism rate of less than 1% suggests the arrangement may actually have something to it.

8. Tihar Prisons – New Delhi, India

Once considered to be one of the worst prisons in Asia, Tihar received a complete overhaul in 1993, introducing meditation and breathing exercises to what is now a population of 12,000 inmates held within the facility’s walls. It barely feels like a prison once inside – flowerbeds, palm trees and vast green expanses of land make up Tihar, and prisoners are seen sitting in the sun, meditating for hours. Education is provided in skills such as cosmetology, carpentry and baking, and prisoners make products that are sold on the outside, including potato chips and paintings. Inmates enjoy games of cricket and Scrabble and are able to e-mail their family members. Because of a backlogged system, the majority of detainees have not yet been convicted of a crime and are currently waiting for arraignment. Meditation was introduced in the interest of helping those who have not yet been proven guilty deal with the stress of confinement and a life among convicted criminals, but has been extended to all members of the compound, who find it reduces anger and produces a feeling of calm. The population rises by 10% every winter, as Indians commit minor crimes in hopes of entering Tihar, where they can find a warm bed and a decent meal. With all the deep breathing and deep contemplation, relaxation of the inmates (and guards) is of utmost importance.

7. Pavon Prison – Fraijanes, Guatemala (at least until September 25th, 2006)

It was a joyous day for convicts in Pavon Prison when prison authorities decided to stop controlling the interior of the prison and simply focus on manning the exterior, leaving the prisoners to their own devices and laws. The Independent Republic of Pavon, as Guatemalans began to call it, was finally taken back by the Guatemalan government on September 25th, 2006. Before that, however, the prison was run completely by convicts, from those who made the rules to the lower members of the food chain who enforced them. Although life was hard for those who weren’t in the elite class, the higher-ups enjoyed private villas complete with Jacuzzis and home gyms. They also took pleasure in a prison disco and a prison video arcade, and a few inmates made up to $25,000 a month by charging other prisoners for plots of land on which to build houses, and through the production and distribution of illegal drugs. Since the Guatemalan authorities took back the prison in 2006, there are still shady goings-on, but inmates admit Pavon Prison now feels more like, well, a prison.

6. Otisville Correctional Facility – Orange County, NY

Prisons in America actually tend to be stricter than those in some other countries. Although they have no comparison to facilities like Camp 1391 in Israel, a compound Israeli authorities deny even the existence of and which has been dubbed the “Israeli Guantanamo,” they’re certainly not as lax as the Greenland or Bolivian prisons we’ve looked at thus far. However, if you’re going to commit a crime in the U.S., you better hope your time is spent in a place like Otisville, a medium-security facility that Forbes magazine listed as one of America’s “cushiest” prisons in 2009. Otisville boasts a high Orthodox Jewish population, and although not exclusively for Jewish convicts, it was created in response to Orthodox Jews claiming that imprisonment violated their first amendment rights by being unable to accommodate their religious lifestyle. A kosher kitchen and weekly Shabbat services are among the amenities prisoners enjoy, and each year a traditional inmate-run Seder is presented on white tablecloths in the prison cafeteria. On top of the religious advantages, prisoners have use of an extensive library, a green room where they can tend to plants and vegetables, and multiple classrooms boasting a large array of courses. Bernie Madoff, the former stockbroker convicted of running the largest Ponzi scheme in history, reportedly requested to be imprisoned in Otisville, but was denied in 2009.

5. Federal Prison Camp Pensacola – Pensacola, FL

A Federal Prison Camp, or FPC, is a minimum-security prison that usually hosts prisoners who have committed white-collar crimes. In the past, inmates were allowed in the community during the day to work and were only locked up at night, and enjoyed amenities such as golf courses and cookouts. Although times have changed, most FPCs still have little or no barriers, meaning inmates could simply walk out if they so choose, but most don’t because of strict punishments imposed on those who do. At the FPC Pensacola, prisoners are allowed to leave for day jobs on the nearby Pensacola Navy base and have a large variety of recreational activities. Pensacola also hosts its own airport, making it very easy for friends and family members to visit on a whim. Prisoners can spend time with their families on weekends in a lush park filled with trees.

4. Aranjuez Prison – Aranjuez, Spain

Aranjuez is one of the only, if not the only, prisons in the world with cells available for families. The family cells, considered “5-Star” by the inmates, are large, with cribs and Disney characters adorning the walls. Children are allowed to stay with their parents until age three, and prisoners can work at the prison supermarket and take educational courses. Family cells were created to help the children bond with the parents in an environment that didn’t feel like a prison. Inmates are also treated to parenting classes, and children play outside in the compound and attend nursery school. Many people disagree whether prison is the ideal place for a child to spend their first few formative years, but Spanish authorities insist keeping families together and encouraging parental-child bonding is worth it and increases an inmate’s chances of rehabilitation.

3. BastØy Prison – BastØy, Norway

BastØy Prison is located on a small island that may remind some of a resort getaway. There are no fences or watchtowers, and prisoners reside in small wooden cottages. The cottages host four men each, and are designed so that inmates have a social life in order to ready them for their return to society. Prisoners farm or tend to livestock during the day and are allowed to enjoy leisure activities such as horseback riding and swimming once their work is done. The men are taught to cook their own food and do their own laundry, skills which authorities say will only help them once they are independent on the outside. The guards don’t use handcuffs and there are no bars on the windows and no locked doors. The warden of BastØy boasts that no inmates have ever attempted escape, and there has never been a murder or suicide, either. With a recidivism rate of less than 16%, this relaxed atmosphere has proven to be a success.

2. Halden Prison – Halden, Norway

Halden Prison is Norway’s newest correctional facility, complete with amenities such as jogging trails, a rock-climbing wall and a spacious library. There is also a music studio where prisoners can create their own melodies, and over $1 million worth of art on the walls for their viewing pleasure. Inmates live in their own private cells, which host personal bathrooms and have no bars on the walls. The compound has a two-bedroom house where convicts can enjoy overnight stays with their families, and there is a school which inmates attend in order to learn skills and possibly earn a degree so they are better suited for life on the outside. As you probably noticed from the last entry, Norway is big on rehabilitation and is a lot less concerned that prisons be punitive in nature. Prison guards don’t carry guns, and many eat and play sports with the inmates. Norwegian authorities say this fosters trust between guards and inmates and discourages violence. Half of all the prison guards are female, which authorities believe helps to lower aggression among the men.

1. Justizzentrum Leoben – Styria, Austria

Justizzentrum Leoben is a minimum security prison in Austria. Inmates in Justizzentrum have committed a range of crimes, from misdemeanors to felonies, and there are also prisoners who are still awaiting trial. These inmates, however, are housed separately from those which have already been convicted. The convicts live in one person cells with private bathrooms, and 15 men share a common living space with a living room and kitchen. The men are allowed to wear their own clothes, as normalcy is the desired effect Austrian authorities were going for. They figure that the more the prison is like the outside, the less of a chance prisoners face of being institutionalized, and this helps them to have an easier time adjusting their behavior to society. For recreation, inmates have access to two fitness rooms, a library, a walking yard and a multi-faith chapel. Inmates can also relax in their cells, which are open to the communal rooms at all times, and watch their own personal televisions.

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