Thursday, May 21, 2009

Prison Footy is Good for the Soul

No word on if these men were involved in the match.

There has been some concern about South Africa's readiness for WC 2010, both in terms of stadia construction and with respect to safety. Of course, the country is holding the Confederations Cup this summer as a test of its preparedness. Even better, they are preparing for the Confederations Cup by staging a Prison Confederations Cup!

South Africa is well-known for its prison population, as it sits ranked #26 overall for incarceration rate and #8 overall for total number of individuals incarcerated. At some point, an enterprising member of the corrections department of Gauteng province observed that prisoners, like many other South Africans, were excited about the upcoming action in 2009 and 2010. Thus a reward structure was implemented whereby they were allowed to play football matches if they behaved themselves during their confinement. Due to the fact that there are quite a few prisons in South Africa, there were enough inmates nearby to stage a Prison Confederations Cup.

One of the matchups featured Boksburg prison (representing Brazil) against Heidelberg prison (representing Egypt; too bad Germany wasn't the UEFA rep - they would have been perfect), and the description of the event is in stark contrast to the crowds at "outside" events:

"Running alongside the road on the other side of the pitch is a three-metre-high wire fence, and beyond that again, silhouetted against the horizon like giant sand castles, three flat-topped pyramidal gold mine dumps.

A lone prison officer with a rottweiler named Rambo mounts guard over the fence."

Excellent name for the guard dog aside, these are not exactly the usual circumstances we think of for a match. However, the idea that football, on a general level, can alleviate some of the social ills that South Africa faces is an agenda that is being pushed harder and harder as the main event draws near. The Boksburg prison head of sports and recreation (who cheerfully refers to one of the players as "that coloured chappie") notes that recidivism in the area around Boksburg is down to around 15%, while South Africa as a whole has a rate of near 60%.

Georgey Jacobs (the afore-mentioned "chappie"), 31, says that playing within the prison system has caused him to re-evaluate his life, and that he wishes to become a professional footballer once he gets out. Sadly, the chances of that happening are far, far less than those of him returning to prison.

[Ed. Note: As a comparison, the latest statistics on recidivism for the US indicate that nearly 2/3 of released offenders will be rearrested for a felony or serious misdemeanor within 3 years of release. Slightly under 50% will be convicted for the new offense, and approximately 1/4 will be sent back to prison.]

And now, because any talk of prison footy requires it:

1 comment:

Frank said...

True Story: Zoltan Gera was in that movie.

Well, not the real Zoltan Gera.