martes, 17 de julio de 2007

Jail Cell for Rent

Treating that patient from the La Paz jail the other day made me realize that I haven't had the chance to talk about how fascinating the jail system is here. The main jail is called San Pedro, and the BBC did an excellent photojournalism piece on the place not too long ago. Unfortunately my knowledge is pretty limited because it isn’t easily accessibly to foreigners (there are no tours) and because, thankfully, I don’t know anyone who has lived in the jail.

[The Plaza outside of the Jail]

[Family members lined up outside of the main entrance]

[San Pedro Church]

Before I lived in Sopocachi I used to walk by the jail almost every day without realizing it because the area is so well integrated into the rest of La Paz. The building is pretty unremarkable other than the fact that it has no windows, but more striking is the complete absence of extra security precautions. There are no barbed wire fences or control towers, and the only policemen are those stationed right at the front door. Interestingly, most of the street vendors seem to cater to the “jail crowd” and sell significantly more hard alcohol and drinks, as opposed to fresh fruits and vegetables.

The way I understand it (and I’m sure the BBC article explains it much better), is that people go into the jail and are expected to not only pay for their living space, but also all of their provisions. The cells range in cost and quality, and prisoners sometimes resort to bringing their families (especially children) to live with them inside the prison. I don't think there's a security system, so people have to work within the jail to pay for their cell space. I don't understand how prisoners are prevented from escaping to roam the streets.

So just like everything else in Bolivia, the government doesn’t seem to have the resources (or the desire) to provide supplies/services for incarceration. It’s interesting when you think about how much money the United States spends on both medical care for the underprivileged, and on keeping large portions of the urban poor in jails. In addition to wondering how anyone can possibly recover in the Hospital de Clinicas, I’ve been surprised by how much these doctors can do for patients with so little supplies (and for such little cost). I’ve also begun to wonder if there’s some balance point between spending very little on patients and keeping them in the hospital for a long time because they don’t recover, and spending more money and speeding up recovery time. It would be an interesting study…if only La Paz had any sort of data collection system for these things.

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