Two Dutch journalists recently visited Tocoron prison in Venezuela, a prison run by its prisoners with the guards left outside to merely guard the gates. And life inside is flourishing. While the country is overtaken by protests and a lack of adequate services, the prison shops offer more food than is available outside and even the zoo animals (the prison includes a zoo, as well as a swimming pool and a disco) have nothing to complain about. Nonetheless, on the down side, the increased wealth is financed by extortion, drug trade and other criminal activities and prison life is hard: when you cannot afford to live there, you are forced to work for the chief criminal in charge.
Interestingly enough, infamous Tocoron in many ways resembles the praised Bastøy prison or its Uruguayan counterpart Punta de Rieles: the architecture resembles the outside world, work is available and the sense of community and autonomy amongst the prisoners is strong. However, it is the corrupt practices of it all that undermine the positive possibilities. All ‘work’ is closely related to illicit activities and the informal justice executed by the chief criminal includes the death penalty. This village does not raise a child or rehabilitate an offender, this prison village sustains the cycle of crime and encourages it.