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Harry Cassin
Publisher and Editor

Andy Spalding
Senior Editor

Jessica Tillipman
Senior Editor

Bill Steinman
Senior Editor

Richard L. Cassin
Editor at Large

Elizabeth K. Spahn
Editor Emeritus

Cody Worthington
Contributing Editor

Julie DiMauro
Contributing Editor

Thomas Fox
Contributing Editor

Marc Alain Bohn
Contributing Editor

Bill Waite
Contributing Editor

Shruti J. Shah
Contributing Editor

Russell A. Stamets
Contributing Editor

Richard Bistrong
Contributing Editor

Eric Carlson
Contributing Editor

Jailhouse Rot

The story from Jakarta about prison corruption caught our eye. It said,

  • A 55-year-old Indonesian woman sentenced to seven months in jail paid another woman $1,100 to do the time for her.
  • In another case, a former tax official serving a jail sentence “was able to leave and return to prison at will.” He was seen in November watching a tennis tournament on Bali.
  • And a businesswoman convicted in 2009 of bribing prosecutors was caught during a spot inspection having a laser beauty treatment inside the jail. Her cell — nearly 700 square feet — had air conditioning, a double bed, flat-screen television, refrigerator, private kitchen and bathroom, and a playpen for children.

We haven’t talked about corruption in prisons. That’s because bribes from inmates to guards will probably never be prosecuted under the FCPA — the payments aren’t intended to obtain or retain business, just creature comforts. Still, we think prison corruption should get more attention than it does.

Even scholarly papers about jailhouse sleaze are rare. But one we found sensibly says corruption in prisons “dilutes deterrence, thus resulting in higher crime rates than otherwise.” Indirectly, then, corruption in jails produces more crime (and corruption) outside the jails, victimizing the rest of the citizenry.

The problem isn’t limited to the Third World. A government report in the U.K. a few years ago said at least 1,000 corrections officers were directly involved in corrupt practices. The corruption ranged from cash bribes from inmates to have them transferred to less secure prisons to bringing mobile phones and drugs into prisons.

Not all prison guards are corrupt of course. But stories about them seem more common than ever. A report this week from Lubbock, Texas said a prisoner was found with cocaine that came from a guard. No surprise there.

More newsworthy, perhaps, was the report last month that mass murderer Charles Manson — maybe America’s most notorious prisoner — was caught with a cell phone in his jail cell. Apparently U.S. prison guards are suspected of bringing up to 8,000 phones into prisons in California alone, and selling them for as much as $1,000 each. Inmates are allegedly using them to run drug rings, plan escapes, and even organize hits on enemies on the outside.

Back in Indonesia, we knew of a prisoner who’d held high office in Suharto’s government but was later convicted of corruption. While serving a six-year sentence, he reportedly bought his guards new uniforms, had the cell blocks painted, upgraded the kitchens, and installed exercise equipment, among other improvements. When he’d walk around the prison yard, the brass-buttoned guards would snap to attention and give him a formal salute.

Not exactly hard time, or much of an incentive to go straight.

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