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Inside San Pedro's Jail

San Pedro is currently the largest prison in the country - originally planned with a capacity of 700 prisoners, it now has a population estimated at over 2500. Already known as one of the "hotspots" for cocaine refinement and distribution on Bolivia, it also has the astonishing achievement of being the only self-run prison in the world, where inmates serve their time living with their wives and children, far from any supervision. Many guards, who just search the visitors at the entry and stop prisoners from leaving, say they have never set foot inside the walls.

In San Pedro prisoners can live with their families: wives enter and leave freely, they often work outside the prison only to return to their husbands in the evening, others work in the many shops and businesses that the convicts have built and run on the inside, from restaurants to saunas and pools. The children leave for school in the morning, but usually return to the prison in the afternoon, where they spend much of their time. Though many choose the honest path and open up shops within the prison, others take advantage of living in the only place in Bolivia where the police do not go, and take part in the most profitable activity of the prison: refining and distributing cocaine. In Bolivia, producing and consuming coca leaves is not illegal, but refining it into cocaine is severely punished. Within San Pedro there are "kitchens", improvised laboratories, secured with huge padlocks and constantly guarded, where prisoners produce cocaine around the clock. The distribution is often tasked to the children, who hide the drugs in their backpacks when they go to school in the morning.

Resisting pigeonholing, San Pedro jail is the only prison in the world to sidestep the worldwide debate over whether the purpose of penal institutions is to rehabilitate or punish. San Pedro offers a third way, a sort of distancing from society without isolation, a way of saying: "you cannot live in our civilised society, let's see how you do in your own".

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