Prisons And Treatment Of Prisoners
By Fatima Salim Khawaja

June 20th, 2009.
Part 1: The Basics defines a prison as; "a building for the confinement of persons held while awaiting trial, persons sentenced after conviction, etc." In 2006 it was estimated that there were at least 9.25 million prisoners world-over, and even this figure was an understatement due to lack of data. The number of incarcerated individuals has increased dramatically since.
In developed countries, a typical prison cell is 8 by 6 feet, with a metal bed tray, a sink, and a toilet. Prison buildings are normally surrounded by walls, geographical features, or other barriers in order to avoid escape attempts by the detainees. The prisoners are generally allowed to roam around the cell block to visit other prisoners, or go outside to the prison yard for the purposes of exercise and socializing.
The UN General Assembly passed a resolution in December 1990 regarding some basic principles for the treatment of prisoners. This resolution was supposedly adopted by all states.
Some salient features of the resolution are:
1. All prisoners shall be treated with the respect due to their inherent dignity and value as human beings.
2. There shall be no discrimination on the grounds of race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.
3. Except for those limitations that are demonstrably necessitated by the fact of incarceration, all prisoners shall retain the human rights and fundamental freedoms set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
4. Efforts addressed to the abolition of solitary confinement as a punishment, or to the restriction of its use, should be undertaken and encouraged.
5. Prisoners shall have access to the health services available in the country without discrimination on the grounds of their legal situation.

Prisons and Treatment of Prisoners:
Part 2: Behind Closed Doors...
[Case study of 3 major nations]
United States of America:
Until 2006, it was legal for the US military to take whatever measures it deemed fit when interrogating prisoners of the "War on Terror". These measures included:
1. Forcing a prisoner to be naked, perform sexual acts or pose in a sexual manner.
2. Applying beatings, electric shocks, burns or other forms of physical pain.
3. Water-boarding.
4. Using military working dogs.
5. Inducing hypothermia or heat injury.
6. Depriving a prisoner of necessary food, water or medical care.
When the Abu-Gharib incident and reports of such detention centers in Afghanistan surfaced, a complaint was made and the policy changed. The new US law prohibited the use of such extreme actions by the US Military. The regulation, however, did not apply to the US intelligence agencies like the CIA which continued with these practices in "Black Sites" outside the USA territory, despite insistence of General Petraeus - a Commander in Iraq - who wrote,
“Beyond the basic fact that such actions are illegal, history shows that they also are frequently neither useful nor necessary.
An amendment in the Intelligence Bill was finally made in 2008 which binds all intelligence bodies to the same rules as the military.
One can only hope that these laws are enforced and followed in practice.
Experts of the UN have credible proof that Israeli groups have been systematically torturing Palestinian detainees despite the ban on such practices by the Israeli Supreme Court in 1999. Palestinian and other nationals are often taken to secret camps. Dalia Kerstein, the director of Hamoked said:
“The real purpose of the camp is to interrogate prisoners from the Arab and Muslim world, who would be difficult to trace because their families are unlikely to contact Israeli organizations for help.”
According to testimonies provided by released prisoners, there have been incidents like the following:
• Inmates were not made aware of their own whereabouts. When asked, they were told they were "on the moon".
• Inmates were repeatedly beaten, their shackles tightened, with water thrown on them if they attempted to sleep.
• Inmates were not allowed to go to the toilet, and were tied in painful positions to chairs.
• Interrogators also showed the detainees pictures of their families and threatened to harm them.
• Sherine Khalil - a woman who was released after 6 years of imprisonment - thought the worst part was the "ups and downs" in the behavior of the guards.
• Prisoners were strip-checked at random in order to humiliate them.
• Among women, some were forced to give birth in jail with "their hands cuffed and feet fettered with shackles".
• The guards would tighten the headscarves of the women to the point of strangulation which caused numerous to faint.
The new Israeli government, headed by Binyamin Netanyahu, has admitted that harsher measures are being introduced against Palestinian prisoners, mainly in order to force Hamas to relax its conditions for the release of an Israeli soldier captured by Palestinian guerillas 3 years ago.
The new measures include decreased food (both quality and quantity), denying the prisoners access to certain TV channels, confiscation of transistor radios, no books, less family visits, and deliberate medical negligence which has already led to deaths of at least 2 prisoners.
I.A. Rehman, director of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan states that the conditions of prisoners on death row are "horrendous", where inmates are chained in solitary confinement with iron balls in their mouths. He guesses that the conditions of the overcrowded general prisons are probably not very different.
It is estimated that the number of prisoners in Pakistan is double the capacity of its prisons which leads to poor living conditions. This can be easily rectified by releasing petty criminals on bail. Unfortunately, this process is not utilized simply due to inefficient management. If the system were in place, the overcrowding would be considerably reduced and many inmates would be saved the exposure that is certain to turn them into hardened criminals.
Another shocking truth is the number of juveniles in Pakistani prisons which are estimated to be around 4500 in number; some born and raised in the prisons, some held for years awaiting trial, and others already tried and sentenced. There have also been instances where inmates have spent several extra years apart from their sentence in prison because no one bothered to release them. In some cases, minors are picked up without any notifications to their parents or relatives.
Girls are often sexually assaulted, and all convicts beaten and tortured in custody. The vast majority of children who are imprisoned in Pakistan originate from the poorest sectors of society, and even if the parents attempt to support their children through the legal system, they would fall into abject poverty
It is clear that regardless of the current widespread civic consciousness and activist programs, the justice system and regulating authorities have much to accomplish before real reformative results can be achieved and human rights violations are brought to an end.
Nonetheless, we must each do our part and take baby steps in spreading awareness about these daily crimes against humanity so that one day, the necessary actions can be taken on a worldwide basis to curb such brutality.


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