I know of a US citizen who committed pretty brutal crimes in Afghanistan pre-Taliban, and went to a notorious Afghan prison. He had a dorm-like cell and was reportedly given alcohol and movies. The US had no known connection to this guy, and his crimes were abnormal and severe enough that in my opinion it'd be hard to classify them as justifiable in any way.

I've heard tales of ex-dictator(s), mobsters, and similarly influential people being given caviar and alcohol, and I suppose nice private cells, as well.

Why does this happen?

Edit to provide another specific example (one I had in mind while writing the question): Slobodan Milošević is said to have had extravagant food and alcohol while imprisoned.

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    They have money, and pay whoever is running the jail
    – Caleth
    Commented Jul 20, 2022 at 15:09
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    As it is the question is too vague. It need some specific examples.
    – FluidCode
    Commented Jul 20, 2022 at 16:07
  • @FluidCode There's a specific example in the first paragraph. I'm not dropping names however. Commented Jul 20, 2022 at 16:24
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    "I know of a US citizen who committed pretty brutal crimes..." May be a single case or maybe misrepresented. It surely wouldn't make the question worse to include more details about the example. Commented Jul 20, 2022 at 17:04

3 Answers 3


There are three basic cases here, as best i can see:

  1. A prisoner has sufficient wealth or influence to bribe or coerce guards and administrators into providing luxuries. This is arguably more common in underdeveloped nations, where corruption is sometimes a way of life for law enforcement. But even in Europe and the US prison guards sometimes smuggle in contraband for the right price.
  2. A prisoner is being held for political purposes, as a bargaining chip. In such cases comfortable confinement or even house arrest might be pferferred to avoid escalating political tensions.
  3. A prisoner is viewed as elite, upper class, powerful, or otherwise respectable, and is granted luxuries in deference. Even in developed nations there is a clear split between 'hard time' and 'soft time': convicts from lower classes end up in the harsh conditions of federal prisons, while upper-crust 'white collar' criminals go to minimum security facilities with occasionally absurd amenities. This is psychological/cultural bias. The bulk of of prisoners are viewed as criminal by disposition — who cannot control their behavior and only respond to punishment and deprivation — while elite prisoners are seen as people caught up in unfortunate situations or who made dumb mistakes.

I cN't speak to any specific case without knowing all the details, but this strikes me as a decent typology.

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    "In developed nations ... the harsh conditions of federal prisons" - Does Germany even have a split between federal and state prisons? It seems this answer conflates "developed nations" and "the USA".
    – MSalters
    Commented Jul 21, 2022 at 14:02
  • @MSalters: Yeah, that's my bad... the term 'federal prison' is an Americanism that doesn't really mean what it sounds like. I wasn't pointing at the federal/state distinction, but at the maximum-security/minimum-security distinction. Though from a glance at the Wikipedia article on German prisons It isn't clear that Germany makes that distinction either. I suspect there must be cushy confinements for German elites (because I'm well-red, and cynical), but I don't know that for a fact. Commented Jul 21, 2022 at 16:35
  • psychological/cultural bias is an excuse used quite often to explain corruption in the developed world.
    – FluidCode
    Commented Jul 25, 2022 at 12:40
  • @FluidCode: THere's a valid distinction to be made between simple greed and psychological/cultural identification. And as a rule, the people most subject to the latter are the ones most likely to dismiss that distinction. Use your eyes. Commented Jul 25, 2022 at 14:07

It's impossible to provide a concise "why" answer to a broad question like this.

In third-world countries, it's definitely possible sometimes for the richer inmates (which in this case would include most US citizens) to bribe their way to better-than-average prison conditions.

Some other times, prison conditions of specific foreigners are used as bargaining chip by the host government, although this is seldom admitted in public.

  • Since Afghanistan was the only country mentioned, it ranks pretty poorly in term of corruption by EU standards. Also, dunno if "pre-Taliban" in the Q refers to 2001-2021 or pre-1996. Commented Jul 20, 2022 at 17:18
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    In the Milosevic case, apparently these were smuggled nbcnews.com/id/wbna11806794 Prison smuggling with or without tacit or active cooperation of the prison personnel happens aplenty in all countries. Random example from the US justice.gov/opa/pr/… Commented Jul 20, 2022 at 17:36

Money and Power receive special treatment under the law in some countries, very notably the USA. A wealthy person responsible for hundreds of millions of dollars will get better treatment than someone who stole one thousand dollars thus one cannot justify the difference in treatment based on the severity of the crime but rather one must attribute it to the societies valuation of the person - a poor person is worth dirt in the USA while a rich person is worth more. Clearly the USA does not implement justice in the expected definition of justice.

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