By Alejandra Orias Garita - International Relations Student
“All persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated at all times with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person. No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. There are no exceptions.” - (Article 10 of The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights)
If the law itself allows practices such as solitary confinement and prison overcrowding, which have been proven to be detrimental to mental health, is it possible to treat prisoners with humanity? Over the years, the amount of people deprived of freedom continues to grow, to the extent that the UN’s Committee Against Torture expressed its preoccupation due to prison overcrowding in Costa Rica, making it clear that instead of building new prisons, the country´s efforts should be driven towards decreasing recidivism, and helping inmates reinsert in society as functional, independent and healthy individuals (United Nations, 2005).
Historically, we as humans have been spectators of human rights violations against prisoners. From the very first time, they enter prison many suffer from sexual harassment and assault by their own prison partners and policeman. There have been cases of inmates in Costa Rica that talk about the inhuman conditions they live in, which include people sleeping on the floor and bathrooms, eating two times a day, and transsexual woman serving their sentence in male prisons, exposing them to harassment. There are plenty of empirical studies that directly relate solitary confinement to emotional and psychological damage. Thus, if they are being treated as pariahs, constantly being told they are not worth anything and that there is no way for them to live right, not only will they become mentally unstable, but they will end up committing more and worse crimes.
Nevertheless, some may argue that many of them committed awful crimes, and therefore deserve to be punished in harsh ways; however, are the system, the society and the government innocent? or could we possibly be responsible to some extent for the lack of opportunities and access to education, and appropriate living conditions that these people face from their early life? Many of the incarcerated population has been treated poorly by the system, they were born without any hope, in the lowest income social stratum, in neighborhoods where drugs and violence were everywhere, and they committed crimes, maybe even hurt people, but did they even get the chance to choose over their lives and actions?
To sum up everything that has been stated before, the latest information reaffirms the importance of taking good care of inmates, making sure that they are mentally stable, especially since many of them may already be suffering from different psychological conditions. Countries such as Finland and The Netherlands have implemented systems in which their inmates are treated with dignity and are given access to efficient education, reinsertion tools, and programs; leading to a decrease in their imprisoned population, to the extent of having prisons shutting down, leaving resources available to invest in education, social programs, and even improving living conditions in other prisons. It is only logical to experience mental health complications when one is living in an overcrowded or isolated room, without access to dignified living conditions or human interaction. In order to progress, it is our duty as citizens to address this issue.
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• United Nations. (2005). Human Rights and Prisons. Retrieved from https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Publications/training11Add3en.pdf