Aranjuez Prison: A Family Jail
This is somewhat old news, but Aranjuez prison in Spain is designed for family living. At first I thought, well this is an interesting oddity. But, after some consideration, I think it’s more than just an oddity (although it is that, too). This brings up all sorts of questions regarding incarcerated parents and the fates of their children. In a broader context it even causes us to ask ourselves how we view prison. Is it rehabilitation or is it punishment? Maybe both. And, the impact broken families have on the crime rate is controversial but well documented. Poverty combined with fatherless children combined with poor education equals crime. That’s a generalization, of course, because loads of people have broken that cycle. But, who can deny, generally, that those three factors put kids at a severe disadvantage in life? It is clearly true. What about this prison? Is it good policy for the government to try to stem future crime by essentially cutting current criminals some slack and allowing them quality family time? I say it’s a noble effort, but it overlooks one thing – the rights of the kids.
The idea is that kids live with their imprisoned parents until age 3 at which point they have to leave the prison and live with relatives. The prison believes that children need to bond with their mothers and fathers despite them being in prison. The cells are posh by cell standards. They are full rooms with all the amenities of home. They apparently bear little resemblance to an actual prison. But plucking a quote from a USA Today story on the prison, we begin to see the flaw.
“At dawn a guard wakes the family up for roll call. At 9 p.m., they are locked up again. Victor Manuel, who has spent the day playing with the other children of inmates, sometimes stands outside the cell crying because he does not want to go back behind the bars.”
To me this is reason enough to cease the experiment. Everybody deserves a chance for rehabilitation and redemption, but when it comes at the expense of a child’s mental health then it is no longer rehabilitation; it becomes transference of punishment.
Another reason cited for locking kids up with their delinquent parents is to use the parents’ time behind bars to teach good parenting skills. That’s an excellent idea, but still wrong. Clearly they were not stellar parents to begin with. When I got CPR certified and First Aid certified they didn’t let me practice on a real human being until they were sure I had it right. Isn’t this the same sort of thing? These parents are being locked up because they make poor decisions. Shouldn’t they practice on a melon or something first? It seems that, in the effort to rehabilitate, the children are being overlooked even though the children are a primary component in the mission statement of this prison. It is antithetical to children’s mental health to subject them to additional poor decision making. In my mind the parents should be rehabilitated then reunited with their kids.
What About the Other Prisoners?
There are other prisoners in this jail besides families. They live in a more traditional jail setting with fewer freedoms. It seems that the prisoners with families are being given preferential treatment. It’s as if to have a family means you get off with a lighter sentence, and that doesn’t seem fair. If I commit a crime shouldn’t I pay the price just like someone who doesn’t have kids? It’s the crime that I was sentenced for, not the fact that I have kids.
Crime needs to be punished. But, the criminal is a person too who, unless we want to see a spiraling cycle of familiar delinquency, needs reform. This prison in Spain is running a social experiment on crime. They want to know if having bonding time with kids will reform the parents and possibly stop future generations from engaging in the same bad behavior. I sincerely think what they have undertaken is with all good intentions. I too believe in rehabilitating prisoners. But I also believe in punishment. The system should not merely be designed to make better people out of criminals. I don’t have all the facts on this prison and I don’t know how many resources it pulls from other state business. I imagine they have to have extra psychologists on hand and allocate more resources for child care. Maybe this prison is actually a good idea. Maybe the state has thought of everything and I’m off base with my concerns. If that is the case then I’m glad. My initial reaction though is concern for the well being of the kids more than concern for the prisoner.