From petty bribery to large-scale misappropriation of funds, corruption is rife throughout the criminal justice process in many countries and has serious implications both for the human rights of detainees and the efficient administration of justice.
Corruption occurs in police stations, prosecutors’ offices, the judiciary and in prisons. Corruption might be a reason why a person is detained in the first place. It might also affect their ability to access due process, access the most basic rights and services in detention and even their ability to stay safe from harm. Prisons are high-risk environments for corruption, especially where there is a lack of transparency and public oversight.
Corruption can affect a person’s access to adequate bedding, or even water. It may see an individual put into solitary confinement for alleged misbehaviour and being required to pay a bribe to have the incident removed from their disciplinary record.
In some cases, people in detention are actively involved in and initiate corrupt practices in prisons. Some prisons are home to large black markets and can become havens for criminal groups operating from within, with or without the assistance of corrupt prison staff.
Self-government or systems of shared governance where people in prison share power and profits often appear alongside, or result in, corruption. Where there are high levels of corruption, it is also more likely that a group or groups of prisoners will be able to exert power over their peers or prison authorities. The most extreme example of self-government is where leaders of organised crime groups or ‘gangs’ control entire prison facilities, most notably in Latin America. In Mexico, a third of all facilities have been found to operate under self-government or collaborative government with prison authorities. These systems can lead to violence, large scale proliferation of contraband, gang violence and murder.
Poor detention standards can exacerbate corruption, where corrupt prison officers may extort money from inmates with greater financial means in exchange for greater privileges, services or benefits. This is particularly likely in contexts where prison staff are not adequately paid or there is a shortage of staff. Addressing pay and working conditions can be an effective way to tackle corruption in prisons.
Working conditions of staff