The world's most laid-back prison?

Bikini-clad female visitors frolic under the Caribbean sun in an outdoor pool. Marijuana smoke flavors the air. Reggaetón booms from a club filled with grinding couples. Paintings of the Playboy logo adorn the pool hall. Inmates and their guests jostle to place bets at the prison’s raucous cockfighting arena…

Prisoners barbecue meat while sipping whisky poolside. In some cells, equipped with air-conditioning and DirecTV satellite dishes, inmates relax with wives or girlfriends. (Venezuela, like other Latin American countries, allows conjugal visits.) The children of some inmates swim in one of the prison’s four pools.

Prisoners boast that they built these perks themselves, with their own money. They say escapes are rare (inmates, if they try, still face the threat of being shot by soldiers outside). And while San Antonio can hardly be considered safe — a grenade attack in the infirmary killed several men last year — inmates argue that compared with other jails, peace often prevails.

“Our prison is a model institution,” said Iván Peñalver, 33, a convicted murderer who preaches at the prison’s evangelical Christian church.

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