A Bleak Peek at Hard Time

Virtual prison tours designed to keep kids on the straight and narrow

| October 8, 2003

They say one of the best ways to teach young people to avoid getting into trouble with the law is to show them the inside of a prison cell. At least that's the thinking behind a new trend showing up on state prison web sites across the country: virtual cell block tours.

The Tennessee Department of Corrections web site, for example, now features a virtual tour of the state's Deathwatch Ward, where prisoners spend their last three days before execution, as well as several other wings of the Riverbend Maximum Security Complex. No prisoners are present in the photos, but their stark accommodations are featured in gloomy detail.

'I think this (virtual tour) serves as a great example to young people who may be on the verge of traveling down the wrong path,' Tennessee Correction Commissioner Quenton White told Wired News reporter Julia Scheeres. 'Everyone should see inside of a prison at least once. It's an image you'll never forget.' Scheeres' article contains links and descriptions of virtual prison tours in several other states, including Florida, Georgia, Virginia, and Texas.

Some observers are skeptical that the tours will have any effect on young people, suggesting it would be better to show adolescents documentaries about real prison life. One visitor to an online support group for partners and relatives of inmates said, 'How can a sanitized tour of an 'empty' prison achieve what these films haven't? It seems more like a PR job for prisons to me.'
-- Leif Utne

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