Human Rights and the Prisoner
HUMAN RIGHTS and the PRISONER
“ No human right is possible without freedom. For freedom is the essense of all rights: men have rights because they are free, as slaves have none because they are slaves.”
How then are we to reconcile the principle of human rights, its applicable doctrines and its essence in the light of understanding the plight and welfare of prisoners? It is an almost inexorable use of conflicting terms, incongrous to a certain extent and even ambigious. For by analogy how can we talk of something concrete, say a food to eat, when there is no food available.
Jusrice Abraham Sarmiento in his book “Journey of a Retired Supreme Court Justice” pointed out that “human rights consist basically of the right to life, liberty and property, the natural rights of man because he is man, natural rights which are inborn and inalienable, and so we have understood the term. But truly, human rights are the sum total of all God-given and man-made rights.”
Again, Sarmiento echoed further that “of all basic (human) rights, the right to property is said to be the least worthy, yet it is property that sustains one’s endeavors and maintains his dignity.” (Underscoring supplied)
Let us then discuss the state on which a prisoner must have to undergo vis-à-vis human rights consideration. It is not only axiomatic but a fact that once an offender is convicted, he loses his freedom. The penalty of imprisonment suspends immediately the person’s civil and political rights. As it were, he is under civil interdiction . He cannot transact any business nor enter into a contract,or get into any other agreement, even apply for a marriage contract. He has no civil rights after all. He cannot even join any political group, seek public office or be allowed to exercise his right to suffrage. He has no political rights at all. Under these circumstances therefore where can we find the true meaning and applicability of human rights as it is to be observed in a penal situation?
Furthermore, if property rights is that which “sustains…and maintains (a persons’) dignity”, how can we postulate its relevance to a prisoner whose bare existence in prison does not include any effort in accumulating and owning a piece of property at all given the duration on which he is supposed to serve time?
Prisoners, since they are deemed to be subjected to a period of confinement and therefore to serve for a definite length of time under a regime of incarceration, partake of a situation akin to a condition which defines an attribute strictly that of a slave. A slave has no right at all and precluded in seeking any precondition to exercise any option. He must have to contend with whatever it is presented to him. An invitation for human rights review in penal camps therefore is an exercise of fulfilling the reverse. There is human rights violation if the prisoner is enjoying the rights which normally are exercised by freemen. There should be no preferential treatment. If an inmate pursuant to institutional rules seeks an exemption from the rigors of prison life, he is immediately alerted and advised accordingly. If he persists , he is given a sanction.
A prisoner is therefore to be subjected to a period of enforced reflection, segregated from any form of exposure that would introduce them into the consciousness of the free community. They should be allowed to live under a regime of silence and suppression. Reformation or rehabilitation, that which is the mandate on which criminal justice prescribes on them belonged to the realm of stillness and peace. For prisoners to be exposed as dancers like those proudly shown on Youtube and interviewed as singers like those featured on primetime television, is a contradiction. Human rights advocates are nowhere responding on these awkward situations and probably lapping it up on these developments. Either human rights advocates are new and therefore uninitiated or they are merely a reactionary force seeking social attention.
Prisoners should be allowed to keep their peace and not expected to join the cacophony of tournaments or cultural presentations, of interacting and exposing their wares on mass media. The old school of human rights advocacy centers on the abuses of jail condition, like discontentment of the prison community with limited lights, potable water and the like. It should also include the bare essentials in calling the attention and subjecting to judicial notice on the unnecessary exposures of prisoners in such forum like mass media or folk entertainment. Suffice it to say that inmates have progressed by way of skills development—like masterfully learning the art of choreography or that of music, but it should remain as such in the humble silence of a contemplative life.
Prisoners are unneccesarrily exploited if not exposed to ridule and embarassment. And this is no way to conduct penal affairs. This is no way to show the world any advancement in corrective science. There is even a view, the traditional view if you may, that since prisoners are incarcerated to serve time, that is to say, to work for it, since rehabilitation is skewed towards labor, it is therefore understood that offenders are under a regime of enforced bondage. Their work has no corresponding remuneration except to earn for the time and receive the necessary respect bordering on acquaintance.
Prisons must reckon its history and should get back at the basics. There was an ideal period during its first inception that correctional administration belonged to the realm of education. As a matter of fact, the agency was once a bureau under the Department of Instructions (the precursor of the Department of Education). It was founded on the belief that offenders must be equipped with skills and proficiency in a specific field so that said competence could make him a productive member of society once he joins the mainstream of the free community. But administrative law later reformulated the organizational function of the prison service. Education may probably be the least that an offender must internalize. As it were, the prisoner is viewed with distrust and misgiving. His rehabilitation is even supervised, this time, by the Department of Justice, under whose aegis the prosecution service belongs. Worst, those appointed at the helm of the prison agency comes from the ranks of the law enforcement agency or the military. This is a telling statement already. Government by this measure and through its administrative expression intends to promote the policy of exterminating with extreme prejudice all offenders but its just too shy to openly admit it. Where lies human rights review on these considerations?
Human rights can therefore be seen as anathema to prison service. And vice versa. If what has been obtaining in the field of correctional adminstration, with affirmative silence of human rights policies, is the signal statement of our criminal justice system as it pertains prison affairs. Simply put, if human rights should serve as the lighthouse of correctional system, it should beam the proper ray. It should promote a correctional management without any political coloration or patronage. It should restore a meaningful atmosphere without traces of merrymaking and shindig. If at all there is celebration, it is more slanted in favor of enticing the prison population to embrace repentance and remorse.