I visited a high security male prison in Liverpool some years ago and presented a lecture on empowerment of women and accountability through choice. This particular prison is an experimental institution which concentrates on rehabilitation through learning as a method for the inmates to rectify and understand the violence and crimes they have committed and to bring change to their lives. It was an extremely valuable interaction for me because it forced me to confront certain preconceptions that we carry about crime, and most importantly brought a human face to the tragedy of violence, not just for the victim, but for the perpetrators too.
I am uncertain about the usefulness of jails when they are spaces that confine people in sub-human conditions, and further distort their behavioral patterns in the process. It only helps to twist the psyche of a trouble individual even more and further demonise them within society. Oppression and authority is rampant in these facilities and too often these places becoming breeding grounds of mafias and gangs making the inhabitants even more dangerous if released within society.
Guantanamo Bay is today a symbol of the worst type of "civilized" methods of sanctioned imprisonment. Deliberately situated in a no-mans land, it acquires a strange status where legalities can be side stepped, and the wrath of an aggrieved nation can spill out over the "suspects", unmonitored by ethics or moral guide lines. Openly flaunting the Geneva conventions with orders that violate human rights which have come from the top brass, who will ever question the free- for- all that has been unleashed which degrades, tortures and brutalises people because of their faith. Osama bin laden's treachery does not become the act of every Muslim of the world, and when cricket commentators can refer to players who exhibit emblems of this faith as terrorists, we know then how prejudiced the world can be, and how dangerous it is to stereo- type people!
I think that progress within societies and evolution of attitudes demand that we re-examine how we address methods of correction for deviant and criminal behaviour. Pictures of police officers urinating into the mouths of convicts that are published in newspapers are not comforting images, yet this is our reality. What are we doing about it is difficult to gauge.
(Photograph courtesy Mithun Rodwittiya )