Illustration by Christine Hipp

There’s a fine line that our prison officials must walk. They are tasked with the arduous job of balancing security with humane and decent treatment. Often this balance is thrown into disarray and prison inmates are subjected to unnecessary maltreatment.

Barrios Unidos is currently constructing a model of a maximum-security prison cell to highlight poor prison conditions found in many facilities. City on a Hill Press supports the efforts of Barrios Unidos and advocates for effective security precautions that do not override humane prison practices.

Barrios Unidos is a Santa Cruz non-profit organization dedicated to assisting the most indigent communities in society. According to the Barrios Unidos website, this is done through “cultural, spiritual, and non-violent principles, to promote social justice, economic equity, civic leadership, democratic participation, community development, self-reliance and peace.”

The model prison, meant to further these principles, is built on an 18-foot trailer and contains features that provide a realistic “inmate experience.” These features include a manned guard tower, a realistic soundtrack from a prison and barbed wire, according to the Santa Cruz Sentinel. The mobile prison will visit schools, courthouses and any other locations where the prison can educate people on the reality of incarceration.

Providing a realistic depiction of our prisons is especially effective considering the ongoing reports of disturbing conditions. A report by Amnesty International released early this year found that conditions in Arizona’s maximum security prisons fall below international standards for humane treatment. The report states that of the over 2,900 inmates held in Arizona’s maximum security prisons, the majority are kept in solitary confinement. Prisoners are held in windowless rooms for 22–24 hours a day without access to work, educational programs or rehabilitation programs.

Another report released this year by the Department of Justice found that, in terms of money, the societal costs of dealing with prison rape have escalated to $50 billion per year. The report cites medical expenses and legal bills among other expenses.

What makes the Barrios Unidos model effective, however, is that it does not consist solely of numbers and data. Enabling the community to directly experience prison conditions both calls for much needed reform and serves as a deterrent for incarceration as the reality of prison is made more clear.

Barrios Unidos hopes to complete the model prison by January 2013.