In our previous report, we visited prisons in three of the 22 new correction districts, headed by elected superintendents with broad powers to reshape the correctional system in their areas to their own design.
Now, after a court judgement, archw.com reporters have been able to visit Gray Mesa Correctional Facility, to which we were previously denied access.
Gray Mesa, and the superintendent responsible for it, Mason Boskovich, have been the focus of controversy that has attracted national and international attention. The facility gets most of its funding from payments by the prisoners themselves, and this has enabled Boskovich to continually lower taxes that fund the correctional system in his district. His ambition is for the prison to one day earn enough money to pay a rebate to residents. It has made Boskovich a popular figure in his area, but divisive beyond it. The regime he has introduced has provoked lawsuits, and even the criminal prosecution of some of his staff. But he remains unrepentant, and maintained his silence to the media, even if he was now forced to allow us to see inside his notorious prison.
Potential inmates are introduced to the regime they may have to live under when they are charged. “It’s Boskovich’s hard sell’, one attorney representing prisoners told me. “Whenever someone gets charged with any criminal offense that potentially carries a prison sentence, they get the book and the DVD, and it is designed to scare the life out of them. And it does a pretty good job of that.” The book and DVD inform the accused of what life would be like in Gray Mesa under the so-called ‘default option.’ “They’re told, if you don’t do anything, this is what life is going to be like for you. And it’s horrible.” But the point of this isn’t to prepare people for inevitable hardship, it’s to give them a big incentive to hand over lots of money. “After scaring them, Boskovich offers them an out, a way to a much less unpleasant life behind bars. At a price, of course.” At the end of the DVD and accompanying book are a bewildering list of possible packages and options available. There’s the ‘basic package’, the ‘bronze’, ‘silver’, ‘gold’ and ‘platinum’, each more expensive than the previous, and offering a less restricted and more comfortable sentence for the prisoner. As well as the packages, prisoners could also buy individual enhancements to improve their living conditions. “It’s all carefully designed to wring as much money out of the prisoners as possible. They make things deliberately awful for them to make them buy their way past some of the worst aspects. The problem is, not everyone can afford to do that, and it also incentivises the prison and its staff to give prisoners as hard a time as possible to get them to pay up even more. It’s a sick system.”