Criminal Campus

Source: The Guardian of 12 January 2015:

Just another word on Paris and on the significance of proximity. Earlier I wrote about La Grande Borne, the sad residential suburb of Grigny where all three protagonists from Charlie the drama grew up and spent their troubled youth. The actual encounter between the young men however did not take place there but in prison. To be precise: in Fleury-Mérogis, located in the south of Paris. In The Guardian I read an article about this prison, the biggest one in Europe. The men’s department alone holds 3,800 offenders. The complex is 180 acres big, dates from the 60s and used to be considered as a model prison. When the three were imprisoned, the penitentiary was in decay and had become a center of violence, drug abuse and suicide. The Guardian, quoting a report of the International Observatory of Prisons, wrote: "Space in overcrowded cells was less than animals were afforded usually." The jail was a social dustbin. Already in 2008, detainees smuggled video recordings out to show the world how bad the conditions were. In this prison the boys came in contact with Djamel Beghal, the terrorist who brought them on the trail of Islamic fundamentalism. The prison is not only a social dustbin, but also and above all a campus for criminal intelligence. The form of the prison actually seems a bit like the new Google campus in Silicon Valley.

I recalled an essay by the Dutch architectural historian Vincent van Rossem, published in the Yearbook of Dutch Architecture from 1990 to 1991. Title of his discourse: "Architecture and punishment; a tough love.” Van Rossem responded to the massive building boom in the Dutch prison system, conducted by the then Government Building Department on the whim of the government. Everywhere across the country new penitentiaries appeared. How the hell could you review this kind of architecture? Van Rossem predicted doom. With so many detainees in close proximity, there is only more misery to come. I understood that in the coming years many prisons in the Netherlands will close their ports. People worry about job losses. But shouldn’t we be happy instead? The less prisons, the better. Much harm may already be done. In the coming years, we still expect many unpleasant surprises. At this time, Fleury-Mérogis is being refurbished. For Amédy Coulibaly, Saïd and Chérif Kouachi however this comes too late.






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