Rafael Estefania produced this photo journal for the BBC on the notorious San Pedro Prison in Bolivia, a city within a city, where children are raised by their fathers in cells without bars, cells that still must be paid for by the inmates themselves; a prison urbanism with high end real estate where some cells can go for as high as $1,500 for a private bathroom, a kitchen, even a billiard space, and where other poor inmates are packed into tiny spaces together working for market stalls, as hairdressers, for restaurants, as tour guides. There is even a hotel for foreign visitors. "Home to about 1,500 inmates", Estefania writes, "it looks more like the streets of El Alto, Bolivia's poorest neighbourhood that sprawls on the outskirts of La Paz, than a prison."
Estafania reports: "Few of the inmates here are convicted killers - 80% of them are here for drug-related offences. Only about 25% of all prisoners are actually serving a sentence - the rest are awaiting trial." Nearly 200 children reside in the prison, the young ones attend 2 nurseries inside the prison city while the older ones go to school outside the secured walls and gates.
"Violence in San Pedro is relatively contained during the day, but things can get bad at night, when inmates steal from each other and fight with knives. The police do not go inside or interfere in any way. According to prison figures, there are about four deaths a month from both natural causes and "accidents". Prisoners are expected to resolve their own problems through section representatives elected democratically."
A few years ago, writer Rusty Young collaborated with photographer Niels Van Iperven on the book Marchng Power, which chronicled the wild culture of the prison through the true story of a British drug smuggler forced to serve his sentence in San Pedro. Their great photo journal can be viewed here.