HUMAN RIGHTS AND THE PRISON COMMUNITY
There are those who claim that prison symbolizes Man’s inhumanity to Man. There are those however who would submit another argument that prison represented a humane approach than exterminating a human being because he committed an offense against his fellow man.
How prison as a facility is applied and how it is viewed in the context of human rights are issues that require an inquiry. Are prisoners exploited while serving time? Are they treated fairly well, their welfare protected and the prison condition conducive to rehabilitation?
Prison administration is always saddled with these concerns. As a matter of fact, the issues remain fresh notwithstanding the fact that there were collateral matters which would submerge it towards irrelevance. As soon as it is addressed, public awareness has waned and the issue is buried without resolution, only to await its resurrection at a future occasion. This would only mean that there is no genuine interest in tackling contentious issues unless media has made it its prime concern. Without drama there is no other way to resolve anything at all.
Congestion is the bane, the curse that makes human rights advocacy curl up with frustration. Yet congestion is everywhere in the correctional system. It is as if it has remained untouched for ages notwithstanding the fact that there is the human right vanguard to tackle its monstrous and inhuman effect. We wait for the effects of congestion through violent reprisal of those directly affected, the prisoners and prison staff. Once hostility explodes, agencies of government would quickly respond as if it is something not expected.
Media is the first to react. Heads of officers are always on the line to be stricken out. Everybody is blameworthy, from the lowly visitor to the administrator, from the fledging prison personnel to his by-the-book supervisor. If the prisoner is not pained, he is seen as privileged. If the prisoner is in pain, then it is his fate that brought him in that situation. The more the trouble the better for media to crow about, the better to expose, the better exposure as a matter of human interest with commercial value at that. Until blame is focused on something else. From a distance, human rights have been served.
And once the brouhaha is gone, once the institution has been diagnosed and penalties imposed its back to regular programming. Meanwhile, congestion is left behind unscathed, unattended, ignored even and forgotten, only to hibernate for its latter day awakening. The very issue for which human rights must attend and check—congestion—-has been relegated to the back burner. It is easy to blame people, so smooth to find culpability on human beings—prison staff and prisoner—than cast the blame on the physical structures. The public wants blood and infrastructures do not yield anything red at all.
And so everyone is back to square one. There is the perennial status of congestion. There is overcrowding everywhere. There is contagion of diseases, there is infection, bacteria and virus circulating, menacing every square inch of the air, there is filth in every dingy corner, the effect of too much warm bodies for so little space, there is rift in every chronic familiarity and gross acquaintance, danger and conflagration are just a snap away. Death is common place, dying is almost expected. It is no longer miracle that is being prayed for in seeking peace, it is more for a prayer seeking supernatural intervention. There is something abnormal to wish for serenity in what has been observed as its exact opposite given the environment.
As a matter of course and if indeed there is sincerity in resolving prison related problems, it is not the prison officers, nor the regular staffers, the volunteers and visitors, not even the prisoners for that matter that should be held to account for humane peace and order. It is congestion. Sardines, anyone?