Top 8 Prison Myths and Misconceptions

Gatien Bon

Prison Myths

For eight months as a prison guard, I witnessed life in prison and how a prison is administrated.  I shall focus on Gen Y’s perceptions of prison and inmates, and highlight common prison myths and misconceptions.

Prison Myths: Rehabilitation

French prisons are much larger than most in the EU. Guarding so many prisoners becomes a difficult job. Moreover, few prison guards for such a huge number of prisoners means little time to focus on rehabilitating prisoners.

The increase in the number of prisoners makes the job of prison guards more difficult and increases the likelihood of violence, as one can expect.. The ability of a prisoner to readapt to the outside world and his will to do so should also be taken into account. Prisoners willing to work part-time, and who are not dangerous for society, should be encouraged to do so.

Top 8 Prison Myths

8. Prisons are the same all over the world.

Each country has its own version of the prison system. For example Spanish prisons are much smaller than French ones and are aimed at preventing recidivism.

7. Prison guards are sadistic.

Unlike the portrayal in Hollywood, almost all prison guards are here to help prisoners, not to torment and harass them.

6. Prisoners wear uniforms.

Uniforms are only worn in a few countries. In most however, they are free to wear whatever clothes they want. In France, for example, their clothing is not restricted except for safety concerns.

5. Prisoners eat in one large dining hall.

Despite the common portrayal in movies, they all eat in their cells for safety concerns in France.

4. Prisoners want to attack their guards.

Very few prisoners harbour these thoughts, and in reality most of them understand that prison guards are only doing their job.

3. Prison guards are strong and fit.

Most prison guards are very young with little experience and have no special physical training. They are not bodybuilders.

2. All prisoners hate being in jail.

Quite a few prisoners I have met told me they were glad to be in prison so that they could not harm their peers.

1. Prison guards are armed.

Not in my experience. Their only weapons are the keys which give them the right to open or close cell doors.

Now for the Truth About Prison

10. Prisoners are violent.

Inmates can be aggressive not only towards prison guards but also towards each other.

9. Prison guards walk a lot.

I walked about 10 miles a day.

8. Prisons can be a place to find a new job.

Correctional officers are prison employees who work with prisoners to help them create a plan for their release from prison. The main challenge is to overcome the reluctance of some prisoners who would not reintegrate and would result in recidivism.

7. Prison guards have tough schedules.

Prison guards usually have to work a full week-end once a month. Night and morning shifts are common since prisons must be run every day of the year.

6. Prison guards are not motivated by their professional career.

Few of them have chosen to work there; prison guard is usually a second or third choice. They are not paid well and live with a negative image.

5. Prisoners do not stay in prison for the time they were condemned.

In France, the length of your time in prison is highly correlated with your behaviour in jail. Mosts prisoners see their sentence reduced and limits their incentive to be an active part to their reinsertion inside society.

4. Prisoners are not fond of going to training programs.

Even when they are offered, prisoners prefer to stay with their peers, enjoy some sports in their cells or in the courtyard rather than preparing themselves for a new job.

3. Prisoners need their TVs.

Most French prisoners spend their entire time in their cells watching TV in order to fight boredom.

2. Prisoners have amazing skills.

If only they didn’t use their skills to commit crimes but  rather to create and innovate, they would do great things.

1. Prisons are an investment. 

We should spend more money on prisons; not only for safety reasons but mainly to bring people back to the right path. We should empower prison guards to fulfil what should be their key task: reintegration of prisoners in society.

French Prison Myths: Size Matters

In France, prison sentences are automatically reduced in length with no regard to the behaviour of the prisoner, and thus limits their incentive to reintegrate into society. Of course, the reduction of of the length of a prison sentence is not the sole reason for violence in prisons or for the dreadful state of prisons. Given the obstacles for a prisoner to have a full time job and to be allowed to live only half of the week in prison,  the incentive is not strong enough.

Overall, my time as a prison guard was a powerful experience as it destroyed many prison myths that I held.