BY BADEA ABU AL-NAJA
PRISON reform is a fairly good idea but every idea about how to execute reforms may not be as good. Administrative misconduct, harsh sentences and overcrowded prisons are problems that need to be addressed while introducing prison reforms anywhere in the world.The solution lies in finding alternative punishment for people who are involved in misdemeanors that merely annoy the public while ensuring dangerous criminals do not get back to the streets to prey on the innocent.
To drive the message home, prison authorities in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states came together recently and kicked off a joint prisoner week under the theme “Together toward reform”.
The concept of criminal justice has witnessed qualitative change in countries all over the world in recent years as much as the philosophy and mechanisms of enforcing it, says Director General of Saudi Prisons Maj. Gen. Ibrahim Al-Hamzi.
This has inevitably led to a positive change in people’s outlook on crime and punishment, says Al-Hamzi.
The inmates are the focus of any reform introduced into correction institutions because they are the ones who are the ultimate beneficiaries of any such move, whether it is an improvement in prison conditions or the care and services provided to them.
Any program in prisons is intended to reform the inmate by helping him or her to lead an upright life and become a useful member of society upon release.
The reformatories in effect are security, social and humanitarian institutions. They carry out integrated work related to all aspects of life. The General Directorate of Prisons has made big developmental strides in this direction. This was achieved through drawing out plans and programs based on well-established scientific and practical principles that guarantee the rehabilitation of inmates.
This is apart from providing the prison staff with training under scholarships within the Kingdom and abroad.
“These programs will not have any effect unless society interacts positively with the inmates upon their release from prisons. Society must share the responsibility of assimilating released prisoners by helping them lead a new life full of hope and ambitions,” Maj. Gen. Al-Hamzi stressed.
He said society is a major partner in the aspired reform and rehabilitation process, as those living behind bars are someone’s father, mother, son, daughter, brother, sister, husband or wife. Each one of them longs to see their blood relatives return to society as upright citizens. And these people when they come out of prison surely need their relatives’ support by changing their negative attitude toward them, which in turn will help change stereotypes.
Society should give any inmate released from prison a new chance to continue his social life in a stable and tranquil atmosphere.
It is from this perspective of enabling male and female prisoners to communicate with mainstream society the Fifth GCC Inmate Unified Week has been launched under the motto “Together toward reform”.
“This occasion bears lofty messages for achieving a working partnership with society toward reform by extending a bridge of love to our brothers and sisters spending time in prisons,” Al-Hamzi said.
The campaign comes under the auspices of Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Naif, deputy premier and minister of interior, who spares no effort in providing all support to develop the Kingdom’s security bodies, he said.
The participation of Prince Muhammad and provincial emirs in the activities of the Unified Week confirms their keenness to share the agony and hopes of inmates in Saudi prisons, he added.
Al-Hamzi said they value the role being carried out by the public and private sector institutions to support the prison reform program.
At the same time, they also welcome the visits of delegations from reform institutions in GCC countries to the Kingdom. They also support visits to reform institutions in other GCC countries so as to benefit from their unique experiences, Al-Hamzi added.
The Fifth GCC Inmate Unified Week was marked on Dec. 25-28 in line with the recommendations of the 18th meeting for GCC punitive and reform institutions. This was crowned by the GCC ministers of interior at their 29th meeting approving the holding of a unified awareness week for inmates at the level of GCC countries.
The objective was to highlight the role of all segments of society in providing care and attention to male and female inmates of prisons and reformatories. The released inmates need guidance to lead an upright life and they should be protected from rejection by both society and family.
Society should be informed on the prisoners’ suffering. It should be stressed that inmates should be cared for and protected from deviation due to family neglect and social stigma. The reformatory staff should create awareness among prisoners to prevent them from falling into the tentacles of crime once again.
Spokesman for the General Directorate of Prisons Brig. Gen. Ayoub Bin Hijab Bin Nuhait said basically prisons aim to achieve deterrence. “Sociological studies confirm that the prisoners tend to live like a special community, a trend that leads to the emergence of a prison culture. There are repetitive and perpetual conducts exclusive to this community,” Bin Nuhait said.
He stressed that the General Directorate of Prisons encourages male and female inmates to participate in programs that help them face the hardships of life.
He said special housing has been constructed for the prison staff working in shifts. They are provided with sleeping quarters, restrooms and cafeterias, apart from playgrounds to spend their leisure time. There is a sitting area in the form of a tent. They are also provided with Internet and ATMs to withdraw cash and transfer money to their families.
There is a special building with isolation rooms for inmates showing symptoms of tuberculosis, HIV and other diseases.
The health centers in prisons have clinics for all specializations similar to those in the Security Forces Hospital. They include clinics for tuberculosis, dermatology, ophthalmology, internal medicine, surgery and general medicine.
Prince Faisal Bin Muhammad Al-Saud, undersecretary for rights at Makkah governorate, said after viewing an exhibition on the sidelines of the GCC Week for Prisoners that he has full confidence in the officials of reformatories and prisons in the region. He said they are capable of coordinating services to inmates and rehabilitating them so that they return to society as productive citizens upon serving their prison sentences.