The world’s toughest prisons: Tucumbu in Paraguay

Tucumbu Prison in Paraguay, South America, houses some of the most dangerous convicted criminals in the country.

It is based in the middle of a slum, and is hideously underfunded and overcrowded – originally built to house just 800 inmates, it currently houses 4000.

The prison features in a recent Netflix documentary series: Inside the World’s Toughest Prisons in which Raphael Rowe spends two weeks inside the prison finding out what life is like for the inmates and guards.

This is an insightful documentary which should be of interest to students studying the Crime and Deviance Module as part of A-level sociology.

A prison of contrasts

There appears to be a very clear structure in the prison, with three main regions being explored in the documentary:

The first is a zone run by the catholic church which seams to be relatively safe and normal (by prison standards) – where prisoners can stay if they agree to abide by 50 rules laid down by the church. This is where Raphael stays, and like prisoners in this area he’s expected to work for 4 hours a day. Work seems to help prisoners as some of them are earning hundreds of dollars a month making products they sell, and they seem to be able to keep a good chunk of the money.

The second is the much rougher outside zone, in the open air, where it seems mainly drug addicts hang out – here one of the ways of making money is to scavenge through rubbish for old bits of food, and plastic bottles.

The plastic bottles can be sold as plates, which inmates used to get their daily food ration, which is the only thing they get for free from the prison authorities. Anything else has to be paid for.

The final reason is the ‘enterprise region’ – where prisoners run full on businesses, such as restaurants, there’s a tattoo parlour, barbers, and a laundry. in this section people can pay around $300 a month for a room – and a few do seem to be making that much money!

Relevance to A-level sociology

This is clearly most relevant to the ‘social control’ topic within Crime and Deviance – this prison offers an interesting contrast to the way things are done in UK prisons.

There are very few guards per prisoner, who mainly let the prisoners get on with their lives, and there seems to be very little in the way of surveillance or rehabilitation going on.

However prisoners are also allowed the freedom to set up businesses, earn money, and have a lot of freedom when relatives come in.

It seems to be a very liberal approach to punishment – individuals are left to rise or fall depending on their own individual efforts which the state doing nothing other than providing what seems to be just one meal a day.

You could also use this as a case study for qualitative research methods.

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