Improving our prison system

In a welcome move, the National Assembly has accepted recommendations to improve our detention centres.

While much has already been done in recent years to improve the state of our prisons, the human rights committee of the National Assembly has pointed out a number of shortcomings. Detention centres are overcrowded. Sanitation is a problem. Basic facilities like kitchens, store rooms, dining halls, and CCTVs are lacking. Cracks have appeared on walls and metal furnishings like fences and bars are rusted.

Those who are imprisoned, no matter what crime they’ve committed, have a right to basic facilities just as they’ve a right to a fair trial.

One of the ministers commented during a discussion in the Assembly that paedophiles and rapists do not deserve a trial by court. While this maybe acceptable to our basic human nature, we must respect the laws. By not adhering to the law of the land, or ensuring all are granted a fair trial, we lose our morality and fall to the same level as such criminals and sadists. It would be the same as organising a lynch mob.

The same goes for the state of our prisons. Both detainees and convicts have a right to a basic human life once imprisoned. We must invest in improving the prison infrastructure. Prisoners themselves could be asked to work on certain jobs to pay for the improvements.

When it comes to overcrowding, the foreign minister has rightly pointed out that those with minor crimes should be bailed out. But the problem is who bails them out? Most criminals come from broken families where financial stability is also likely to be an issue.

There is a need to differentiate how we detain suspects and imprison convicts based on the level of crime. Those who are suspected or convicted of minor crimes should not be held together especially when it comes to violent and non-violent offenders.

We already have open air prisons for prisoners who display good behaviour towards the tail end of their sentences. But perhaps we need to differentiate earlier by having minimum-security prisons. Convicts who have committed minor non-violent crimes are kept in minor-security prisons and are granted a higher degree of freedom and a chance to prove that they are willing to change and become law-abiding citizens. They are provided with opportunities to work within society but have to return to the prison after work.

Such a system could be piloted in Bhutan.

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