From Rulay to Rules: Perceptions of Prison Life and Reforms in the Dominican Republic’s Traditional and New Prisons

When and Where

Friday, March 04, 2022 1:00 pm to 2:30 pm
Online via Zoom


Jennifer Peirce, PhD, Post-Doctoral Fellow, CrimSL


This talk will be conducted via Zoom. Please see below for the Zoom link.

Abstract: Amid crises of overcrowding and terrible conditions in Latin American prisons, many countries are opting for hardline, supermax-style reforms. The Dominican Republic has taken a different path: for nearly twenty years, it has developed and expanded a “New Prison Management Model,” focused on international human rights and rehabilitation. The “new” and reformed facilities feature new buildings, programs, and correctional officer staff with multi-disciplinary training, largely based on international standards and models. In contrast, the “old” prisons, which continue to exist in parallel to the new ones, are deteriorated and crowded, with few programs and guards. The old prisons also manage daily operations through a system of “co-governance,” in which a committee of prisoners negotiate a shared power arrangement with government authorities.

This presentation analyzes the implementation of the “New Prison Management Model” in the Dominican Republic, with an emphasis on how incarcerated people perceive their conditions in prison and their sense of respect, autonomy, and prospects for positive reintegration in “old” and “new” prisons. Based on survey and interview data, this study shows that incarcerated men have mixed views about the reform process and about their experiences of daily prison life. The New Prison Management Model’s standardization of living conditions, corrections officers’ roles and management tactics, and programs for education and rehabilitation generated some substantial improvements – especially for economically-marginalized people. At the same time, these changes also imposed new constraints and incentives on individuals’ choices and on the prison’s social order. Some of the strict and top-down governance strategies of the reforms have inadvertently undermined some of the major accomplishments of the New Model. More broadly, as other countries attempt to make prisons more decent and rehabilitative, the Dominican prison reform experience demonstrates the importance of going beyond “international minimum standards” for prisons and to put incarcerated people’s sense of autonomy, participation, and dignity at the center of any reform effort.