World Travel

Babes behind bars

David Wilson
Babes behind bars

Prison beauty pageants around the world

Perpetrators of ugly crimes can look angelic. So, packed prisons, everywhere from Peru to Siberia, have ample talent to tap for bizarre Club Fed beauty pageants. In the eyes of supporters, the pageants offer therapeutic relief from regimentation and, for an evening, let someone bathe in the limelight like the new Miss World, Gibraltar's Kaiane Aldorino.

Critics question the rehabilitative value. "Learning to pull off a chartreuse bikini and a [expletive] crown isn't in keeping" one reader commented last year. Still, the contests thrive. Aside from the uniformed guards at the doors and some entrants' scars and inky tattoos, the typical prison production could easily pass for a big-ticket effort. Miss Gibraltar, meet Miss Demeanour!

Bloody Mary

Bogota, Colombia

Colombia's largest women's prison, El Buen Pastor (the Good Shepherd), stages an inmate pageant in honour of the Holy Virgin — the inmates' patron must be a hard act for the lost sheep to follow. After the contest comes a masquerade party, during which cat burglars and armed robbers must feel in their element.

The whole event is broadcast across Colombia, for which beauty and competitive pageants are up there with soccer. Colombia's other obsession, which fuels crime and helps sustain the Good Shepherd's drug mule supply, is cocaine — the country provides 90 percent of America's fix.

Kiss and make-up

Lima, Peru

Peru has a wealth of locked-up talent, swelled by the nation's status as the world's second largest cocaine producer after Colombia. Santa Monica women's prison in the country's capital, Lima, holds a yearly Miss Spring contest, which strives to live up to its wholesome name.

Entrants must exhibit good conduct, attend therapy sessions, and join workshops in fabric painting, cosmetology, and escapology — or not. Sex appeal counts, but comes second to personality — bad news for gorgeous Peruvian psychopaths.

Hot wax

Sao Paulo, Brazil

In the prison pageant field, there is just no escaping South America. The region has a passion for parades of cute criminals. Yet another happens at the Women's Penitentiary in Sao Paulo: the richest town of a nation renowned for bouncing beauty.

The Sao Paulo contest is called "Rewriting the Future" — a nod to the chance of time off for good behaviour and reform. According to the prison authorities, the contest boosts inmates' self-esteem and nudges them into weighing their options once they finish their sentences. Floristry or robbery?

Ice queens


Amid Latin America's prison-pageant dominance, one brutally bleak Northern Hemisphere zone acts as the backdrop for a display of slammer glamour. Welcome to Siberia. Comely inmates trapped in the region's UF 91/9 prison may enter a contest that offers a chance to be good in public and earn early parole, which sounds reasonable.

But when the idea was floated at the dawn of the 1990s, the inmates were shocked. The prospect of a Miss Gulag contest seemed daft because clothing options were as thin as Siberian sunshine. Still, everyone adapted. In a show of conspicuous frugality, the eventual winner wove her dress from prison kitchen plastic bags. Now, to jazz things up, participants are allowed embargoed items like lipstick.

Fatal attraction

Nairobi, Kenya

On the captive catwalk map, Africa is a blank space — with the exception of Nairobi. The Kenyan capital's showpiece women's prison, Langata, serves as the stage for a contest with the hallmarks of a true in-house job. Even the mistress of ceremonies at the 2005 Miss Langata contest had a history — she was serving a nine-year term for trafficking heroin.

The year before, the inaugural winner — Milka Wanja — memorably voiced the urge to leave incarceration so she could compete against other beauty queens. Nice try! Wanja had to wait until the end of her 18-month term. Other Langata contestants will never emerge. According to the Dutch TV firm Metropolis, Miss Langata 2007 — Pauline Amana — was on a death sentence. Still, in October 2009, Amana appeared in a report run by Kenya's The Nation newspaper. Enduring beauty.


Panevėžys, Lithuania

Take a sordid Lithuanian prison cinema. Build a stage equipped with soft lighting and glittery backdrops. Add Lithuania's most famous compere and you have the country's 2002 flirtation with big-house beauty. The pageant, called Miss Captivity, was a one-off for Lithuanian reality TV — itself a good idea for a documentary. Intense preparation went into the pageant, of which the roster spanned crimes up to and including murder.

Contenders had to chat with a psychologist and take a crash course in walking in high heels. Despite unease that the contest would exploit the country's most lowly for the sake of a few ratings points, the show proved a hit. "Two of every three television viewers sat glued to their sofas as a raven-haired 21-year-old named Kristina won a tiara that, one can be sure, not every beauty queen covets," the New York Times reported Encore.

User comments
To anyone claiming prison is not that bad because it has all sorts of fun things to do. What prison did you go to? Even federal prisons suck, despite what some very stupid people would have you believe. NO, inmates do not have jacuzzis. They allow thing like this to go on because it creats a safer enviroment for everyone involved in the prison. Not everyone in prison is there because they "killed someones children" or robbed a bank. Some times people do things because they feel thet have no choice. It's not always about good vs evil & the real world is not black & white. Go to prison, then come back and tell me what a swell time you had, dumb ***
You are all missing the point. Prison is not meant to be a holiday camp. maybe we should change the name to Penetentiary, so the inmates can show some kind of remorse for the things they have done that put them there I the first place. To be a law abiding citizen in any society isn't that hard. What would you say to someone who murdered, or sold drugs that cuased an OD to someone you loved? I'm sure you'll agree that to dress up and parade around the cell block like you don't have a care in the world, then sit down to a prepared meal and then either go to the gym or watch a dvd in the communal lounge room, is far removed from what most rational people would define as justice or punishment. Guys you need to tune into sanity Fm, and look at the real world....
Hi, DID YOU KNOW that tax payers are paying up to AUD$60+ per person per YEAR for each of these prisoners. So we're actually paying to keep them behind bars. On the other end of the scale, paying for their self esteem such as these pageants are good but it must be consistent so they can work towards something? Look, we're always going to get people who commit crime, ***, nice people, two face personas, and so it is our duty to help make things a little better for our country. On the up side - they could either reduce the amount of crime they used to commit AND so its savings all of us money in the end. I.E we Could use that money for something more useful like donate extra fund to cancer foundation. peace.
What a lot of misogynistic comments. Its like a WITCH hunt. You all want to see these women burn. Does it feel good to be so hateful?
Can't believe some of the comments here. Do people really want to go back to feeding prisoners scraps and not letting them see daylight? I know Australia has a bogan-convict mentality, but these comments sound like they are from the middle ages. Ever heard of compassion and rehabilitation & even perhaps forgiveness? No, well lets hope with all that hate and anger you don't end up being on the wrong side of the bars one day and become one of the people you so hate.
***? Don't people read these articles before they post? Tax payer dollars? Since when do Australian taxpayer dollars get spent to pay for the penal system in any South American countries? I seriously doubt any of the women imprisoned in Peru or even Lithuania are going to end up living in Dept of Housing accommodation in Australia
Yes I would like to join this group, you call prison. Will there be dancing at the gala ball as well? Possibly champagne is in order, followed by a nice dip in the jacuzzi. (They do have these things in prison now, I expect?) But tell me who's doing all the picture shooting? Maybe the beautiful woman that killed her kids? Or that younger lady who was so drunk one night that she ended an innocent families life? It could even be the glamourous drug addict that sold those drugs to minors? Who knows, but whatever their past, today they will be given the respect they deserve, and not of that crying parent in court who shouted those awful unjustly words about their lost child. This is a beauty pagent, all welcome to admire these babes, except of course the ones that have passed on, oh well their loss I suppose!
...we'll be seeing Shappell Corby on the runway soon? Can't wait for that one!
Is not a surprise at all that Killers, Thiefs, and Rapers are been treaten like Rock Stars in prison because outside prison the Catholics that likes to call themselves "Christians" killed over 80.000.000 million man, women and children during the Inquisition. The Pope the leader of the Roman Catholic Church walk on the streets as if there was not such thing as an Inquisition or child sexual abuse by Catholic Priests. About 4 years ago one of the pedophile Pope former Lawyers said that "the Pope is the son of Satan the Devil because he laughed at the 200.000 USA citizens who were abused by Catholics in the USA". As long as the pedophile Roman Catholic Church continue to exist the Killers, Thiefs, and Rapers that are in prison will treat prison as a Holiday Hotel using Tax Payer money.
Most commentators want prisoners treated like dirt. I wonder if you've ever been to prison for a visit, If not, I recommend it. Then imagine spending just one night there, then a weekend, then a week, a month. I guarantee a 3 days inside will feel like a year, always watching your back for screws and cons and then you'll realise that a 5 year stint is like eternity and is a very harsh punishment. Most of the people in jail are there for drugs. Gee whiz big brother tells me i can drink but not use drugs so you got locked in the slammer for getting high. That deserves real bad punishment. Almost nobody stays in jail for the free food and accomodation you nuts, you get that on the dole on the outside anyway. You think degrading someone for years is going to teach them a lesson, no it will make the worse, much worse. Anything that reminds them of their humanity is okay.