Conditions of Arab prisons are still very bleak and gloomy when compared with conditions of prisons and penal systems in the world, including South countries and undemocratic regimes as justice in punishment is not restricted to social progress and democratization.
According to our follow-up of African countries, it is sufficient to provide a political will, credible and efficient human rights societies in addition to an effective mobility from families of detainees and prisoners to improve conditions and even issuing laws of good standards as much as protection of prisoners and respecting their rights are concerned.
The international aids have sometimes encouraged many countries to adopt more humanitarian policies as much as their punitive systems are concerned, specially that improving prison conditions, according to all indications and studies, leaves a positive effect on the declining level of crime and decreasing components of violence in the society and lead to easy merging with the society.
In Arab countries, there are many legal texts that never cope with the latest developments of the punitive system, and can't consequently handle many problems, including handling torturing and the inhumane and shameful treatment inside prisons.
Also, there is a lack of decision making in creating mechanisms to review prison systems on the legal and legislative levels and training the punitive institution on getting rid of backward and tough reactions in dealing with prisoners, to be in line with the Arab values that give dignity to human beings and related international laws.
From the moment of provisional detention, there starts a journey of misery as the detainee has no chance to appeal and is stuffed in headquarters or prisons that have no judicial supervision or supervision of human rights societies which are still denied access to them.
These problems do not face only those concerned but the whole community as families and lawyers are often denied visits to detainees or they may face harassments that prisoners face as an additional punishment. They are accumulated inside narrow cells that lack the minimum required hygiene standards and in which the health care lapses, leading to an easy spread of infectious diseases including skin diseases like scabies, in addition to pulmonary tuberculosis diseases, liver fibrosis, spleen fibrosis, ulcer of stomach, slipped disc, pains of bones and vertebrae, ear diseases, weak sight, according to reports of international and Arab organizations interested in prison conditions.
Apart from the lack of equipment and medication and medical crews, they face administrative pressures so that can not carry out of their job professionally or neutrally, and they even become an instrument in the hands of the prison administration to use them against prisoners, not to check them up and secure their psychological and physical safety as is required.
In addition to the lack of qualified personnel to run general affairs, and the lack of effective administrative systems and sufficient financial resources, there is a spread of corruption, nepotism and weakness in human rights culture on the popular and official levels, and especially some kind of escaping punishment for those who have balances of power.
The number of prisoners is horrible as it reached about 62 thousands including those in Israeli prisons and more than half of them in occupied countries. Specially with the globalization of the state of emergency since 9/9 attacks, doubling exceptional laws, allowing follow-up under cover of secret evidences, the court-martials, state security courts, and the creativity in making up methods of torture and arbitrary detention in places some of them are still secret until now.
In these societies submitted to tyrannical and dogmatic regimes, people turn into a herd that lose the feeling of affiliation, safety and citizenship, and the criminal remains subject to the ugliest kinds of inhumane and humiliating treatment. The social control process spawns types of behaviour affected by coerciveness the adherence to applying law under fear, compulsion and force threats. This also affects the psychological and mental balance of the human being.
In a letter sent to me from Dr. Al Mazni after he was released from prison in Egypt, he says: " They keep hold who people due to torturing suffer from schizophrenia and depressive craze and they keep hold on people who are originally insane but brought to prison by mistake, but it is difficult to be released from it after entering. All people- except for a rare number of them- fear to reveal what they faced because there is more harm". After describing the torture he faced which led- he says- to slipped disc leading to his paralysis and preventing him from doing his job as a doctor, given that he entered prison without any guilt and was released without facing any charge or even knowing why he was detained.
Many like him spent years in dark cells only because of their affiliation ideological movements pursued by repressive regimes that deal with their members as criminals. How can it be legalized and how can people be persuaded that arresting a few days ago the Secretary-General of the Arab Doctors' Union Abdel Moneim Abul Fotouh and manager of the relief committee in the union Dr. Jamal Abdul Salam and many others before them, is to protect the country and to protect state security and citizens?
Also, no one speaks out when dignitaries and people by hundreds or even thousands like these two persons enter prison and spend years that should have been spent in serving their country and building their societies. This makes the ruler think that his rule is absolute and allows to himself all taboos as long as resisting his will does not live up to the required level, and as long as that impunity for his kind of people is the rule.
The problem doesn't lie in the texts which aren't sometimes available, and they are even proudly highlighted but governments of these countries whose representatives have high positions in UN institutions that call for respecting human rights, they proudly show them when tabling the reports in front of competent committees about how far these rights are respected. However, the negligence is mostly related to the view of state institutions and the ruler to the ruled and to the target from ordering the prison punishment, like the political will especially in the implementation process.
The various schools of punishment have adopted philosophies based on the individual's relation with the society and they differed over the concept of personal will. The objective school that appeared in the 19th century and affected many nowadays' legislations, built their legal theories on the opposite of the foundations of the traditional and modern traditional schools which concentrated on the free will of the individual.
The objective school denied this and saw it as an illusion belied by the reality, saying crime is inevitable when personal and objective factors related not only with the individual and his abuse of his freedom, but also with his surroundings that eventually makes him its victim, and with the causality law that directs human activity as it directs natural phenomena.
The history of prisons history hasn't generally witnessed on the international level a steady progress but it has witnessed retreats and backpedaling as well, until they returned to caring for prisoner instead of punishing him in his prison due to the assumption that the prison itself is a punishment, a return to first Christian ideas, as Christ called for taking care for prisoners, strangers and the poor.
The Holy Quran has confirmed this advice in the verse " and give the food they love to the needy, orphan and captive ", and it confirmed the individualism of the criminal responsibility " no one shall bear the wrongs of others ", and it saw the punishment as a worldly not only religious issue" "You have life in retaliation, O men of understanding", and it ordered establishing justice without discrimination " Make justice even on relative", with approving the pardon principle and rejecting the retaliation principle.
Unnecessary punishment deprives punishment of its proportionality with the crime and its circumstances, and it restricts personal freedom for no reason. Imam Ali Bin Abi Taleb - May Allah honour him - has approved in Iraq a charity for prisoners. As for caliph Omar Bin Abdul Aziz, he was among first to demand in the 8th century AD a reform of prisons and rehabilitation of prisoners during and after detention.
The prison as a punishment that deprives of freedom was known early by Eastern civilizations as it was found in China , India , Egypt and Mesopotamia . Also, the idea of allocating allowances to prisoners during and after the period of their detention was ancient. But they returned with the presence of non-governmental organizations to defend human rights, reform conditions of prisons and care for the rehabilitation of prisoners, and with legalizing human rights including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that stipulates that "The prisons system deals with prisoners a treatment that mainly aims to reform and socially rehabilitate them". Also, we can say that various expressions of social and psychological aid have contributed to the progress of the o called multiple view to rehabilitation.
If criminal law has been drafted to protect society from crimes and misdemeanors committed by individuals, to protect rights of their victims, to guarantee respecting rights of the accused rights and providing a fair trial for them, and if the core of the state of the law is that law is above all, not that the weak is punished while the strong escapes, it is assumed that punishment aims to reform and rehabilitate, not revenge and retaliate on the convict.
And so, with the development of concepts of human rights, criminal sociology and criminal psychology, prison punishments were reduced and were replaced with precautionary measures, financial penalties, community service outside prison, i.e. gradually moving from punitive justice to corrective justice.
Prisons in many developed countries started to turn into reform and rehabilitation centers whose aim is that after the end of prison term, the prisoner becomes a useful individual to himself and to his society. Also, substitutes for imprisonment were sought specially on committing slight misdemeanors, adding benefit to the meaning and it contributes to easing burdens on budgets of overcrowded prisons.
In some cases, opening doors of prisons allowed civil society societies to works with inmates in these closed places on the basis of educational entertaining and human rights programs. Deprivation of freedom which is assumed to be temporary is associated with the interest that the prisoner is released after the end of his sentence without facing any hurdles that may turn him to a more serious criminal after he is released. Prison is itself a distortion of one's human image about himself and may make him lose trust in himself and in others.
We should bear in mind that a detainee has qualifications and capabilities even if some people's past didn't allow them to exploit them. Prison should give the chance for completing professional or educational studies and to gain more skills or develop these skills to make them help ear one's living after returning to normal life.
While waiting for restoring his freedom, the prisoner has the right to work, earn a living keep himself healthy and maintain a personal and family life that keeps the minimum required of his humanity and saves him from the desire of revenging on the society that offended him.
Many developed societies reconsider their legal and punitive systems and work for handling causes not results and work for rehabilitation and merging through reform centers, parallel activities establishments and through activating skills and training on professions, affording job opportunities and consolidating alternative sanctions and provisional release.
There are those who lay down a common view with ones concerned over the future plan that the latter plans to apply when he is released and preparing him to be ready during the prison period through academic and preliminary programs.
Improving detention conditions is also accompanied by repairing buildings, educating workers in punitive establishments, allocating necessary financial capabilities especially for underage. Also they should improve conditions of the judiciary that issues rulings and sends to prison, through increasing the number of judges and preventing the executive authority from having control over the judiciary or sing it to address its demands.
Also under discussion is the role of guards and correcting them to rehabilitate the prisoner instead of punishing him. This because the silence towards crimes committed against the prisoner on the part of executioners makes them able to destroy his humanity. Therefore, programs are laid down to rehabilitate them to change their negative image about themselves and about prisoners and help them face difficulties they may suffer under relatively tough conditions.
Last but not least, when conditions of social mobility are provided for the civil society societies that seek to offer aid to prisoners and seek to motivate authorities to humanize prisons and humanize the concept of punishment on the basis of concepts of international human rights law, this will be an important step taken in the way of the society's progress way, establishing the state of the law and freeing human beings from the fetters of backwardness.