Several people are incarcerated in the United States prisons as well as several other correction facilities in the world. The number of prisoners is in fact increasing as activities that are more criminal continue to be reported. Even so, every person deserves equal treatment notwithstanding where he or she lives, or where he or she is staying. This has brought about the ethical concern that should prisoners be treated like other population outside custody? This ethical concern has elicited several views from different stakeholders including the prisoners, the prison authorities, and several interest groups. The ethics of caring for the wellbeing of prisoners often become complicated. These prisoners are marginalized population and excluded from the society mainstream, thereby demeaning their social status. The community often discriminates and stigmatizes people locked up behind bars. Nevertheless, the major problem in the correctional facilities does not lie with incarceration of the prisoners, but with the unethical treatment that they at times receive from the caretakers, who are the correction officers.
Some people feel that prisoners should not receive the same treatment as those who have not committed crimes, or have not been charged and convicted of criminal activities. However, it should be clear that every person makes mistakes, even though some are worse than others do, they deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. According to philosophers, the main reason of conviction is not punish offenders, but to ensure justice is served. Therefore, the society should note that even the people who have been locked behind bars do not stop being human beings. In fact, crime can be committed in several ways, and any person is capable of committing a punishable crime that can lead to imprisonment. However, this does not imply that these people deserve harsh treatments. Prisons are correctional facilities, and not places for inflicting pain on inmates.
Most people who have worked closely with the prison authorities believe that the history of corrections have shown a movement toward more humane treatment of offenders, and that the society has progressed. In the ancient times, prisoners majorly received corporal punishment such as beheading, whipping, dismembering, torture, and projection to severe conditions often leading to death in custody. Through many years, there have been several amendments to the treatment of prisoners and their basic human rights. According to utilitarianism, it is believed that moral rules should be choices made by the society to promote the happiness of its members (Pyle, 1998). Utilitarianism provides that laws should purposely maximize the happiness of the society, thereby governing morals and ethics. For example, when an individual is arrested, and undergoes the necessary procedures of justice, then the sentencing judge sends this person into custody, it does not necessarily mean that this person is sent to prison for punishment. This usually provides time to ease the thirst the public might have for vengeance on the defendant. Additionally, educational programs that are offered in the prison usually help in developing the individual and rehabilitating him according to the utilitarian principles. Therefore, this theory understands the fact that crime-free societies are nonexistent, but maintains that crime and punishment should be minimized as possible. Nevertheless, the total good that punishment produces, both to the offender and the society, should exceed the total evil of the same. This means that the correctional facilities and officials should ensure that punishment should not be limited.
The correction officers also have a difficult time in handling the convicts. Conviction usually begins at the time an individual is sentenced to serve a jail term. These sentencing officers often play a very important role in preparing the prisoners for the environments they expect in prisons. In contrast, prisoners often have ill feelings about the correction officers and the prison environments. While the correction officers are expected to act with morality and ethics in their duties, they often face challenges in ensuring the prisoners, who already have animosity towards them conduct them in a manner deserving proper treatment.
Despite the aforementioned assumptions on the improved conditions in the prison facilities, some people still maintain that the conditions of confinement that are present in jails and prisons today have several similarities with the characteristics that were of concern to the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research (NCPHSBBR) thirty years ago. The conditions might even worsen in prisons because the sentencing laws have become even tougher, thereby leading many people into the correctional units. Therefore, the ethical treatment of prisoners continues to pose a challenge to the whole society. Utilitarianism suggests that the main aim of punishment should be to provide happiness to the society and the offender. In subjecting prisoners to harsher conditions while in custody, this suggests that the correction officers are going against the utilitarianism ideology.
According to moral and ethical treatment of prisoners, it s important that the correctional facilities ensure that the prisoners are prepared and transformed into law-abiding citizens upon their release. The reintegration of prisoners into a free society should be done without anomalies that undermine the rights, privileges, dignity, and personalities of the convicts. In the past, it was believed that punishing individuals discourages potential offenders. Therefore, correctional facilities often intensified their punishment programs and insisted on modalities that ensured the potential offenders desisted from engaging in criminal activities (Misha, 2006). However, latest researches have revealed that this is not always the case. Some criminal have the inborn desire to commit crime and punishing offenders would not discourage their activities. On the contrary, they seek revenge against the authorities that try to discourage their gangs.
God is the sole giver of life. He reserves the right to take away life and demean other people. In this regard, prisoners are equally God’s creation. They deserve equal treatment like other population, and treating them otherwise would mean going against the will of the creator. Several interest groups, mostly religious in formation, have always tried to ensure that the conditions in prisons are friendly to the prisoners. According to the traditions of these religious groups, which are consistent with utilitarianism, a person should not treat the other with prejudice or consider one superior over the other because it is the responsibility of a supernatural being to decide on superiority.
The United States and other developed nations of the west have improved the conditions in jails as compared to the developing economies (Gostin, Vanchieri, & Pope, 2007). For instance, in Sub Saharan Africa, prisoners are considered outcasts from the society and the authority treat them without dignity and reverence. In these developing economies, the prison environments have very poor management and are usually risky in terms of health care, security, and even confidentiality (Hoelscher, Atun, & Bates, 2011). Research has it that these are usually brought about by corruption and malpractices in the government departments, which is common with such countries. However, in my opinion, I consider even the convicts in developing economies as equally important human as the free individuals outside custody.
According to Gandhi (2006), he advised the Indians when they were fighting each other on religious grounds that an eye for an eye would only leave the world blind. The same applies to the ethical treatment of prisoners. If they would be punished and exposed for their wrong doings, it would only damage them instead of helping correcting and transforming them into responsible members of the society. In this view, prisoners should be treated in a manner that shows them that their mistakes have been pardoned and they would rejoin with the society after their jail terms are complete. However, due to the harsh conditions in the prison cells and environments, inmates have always become stubborn, and most of the ex-convicts end up returning to prison soon after their release because they adapt to the quire behaviors they find in prison.
According to ethical egoism, people ought to act from the drives of self-interest. Whether personal, individual, or universal ethical egoism, I believe that a person usually acts in the manner in which best serves his interest. Every person usually wishes himself well, therefore, if the prison authorities and officers have to act from their self-interest, they should also expect the inmates to act from their personal interests. Consequently, when prison authorities consider the prisoners as people who also have self-interest, they would treat them in a manner that they would have also expected of the prisoners to treat them. This would eventually reduce the run-ins between the two parties.
On the other hand, even though interest groups lobby for the ethical treatment of prisoners, this does not imply that the prisoners have the right to be treated in the same manner those other members of the society are treated. It should be noted that these inmates have been charged and convicted of criminal offences. Some of these offences are deadly, thereby qualifying these inmates deadly too. Therefore, as long as they are treated ethically, there must be restrictions that ensure that these convicts differentiate the prison environments from the normal environments in the society. For instance, the prisoners are denied some privileges and rights such as freedom of movement and association is restricted in order ensure that the inmates and the prison officers’ security are sufficient. Additionally, if the prison environments are not treated with some infringements on the rights of the inmates, some of them might not benefit from the correctional programs offered in these institutions.
The society is a very important stakeholder in the ethical treatment of these prisoners. As earlier mentioned, the society members have conflicting views on the treatments of prisoners. Some members feel that these populations do not require any ethical considerations since they acted out of conscience, and would have thought of ethics in the first place. However, the conflicting members of the society feel that every human being is equal and require equal treatment. Imprisonment is usually used a process of healing between the offender and the offended. The society members should understand that before conviction, these prisoners were also part of the society, and would return to them after serving their sentences. Therefore, they should be treated with dignity and respect and should not be subjected to conditions that demean their human nature, which is supernatural.
The number of prisoners in the United States and other nations of the world have been steadily increasing due to the intensified crime laws. Developing countries report the highest enrolments in the prison facilities as compared to their developed counterparts of the west. There have been several concerns on the ethical treatments of prisoners from different stakeholders such as the prisoners, the prison authorities, the society, and other interest groups. Basing from different theories such as utilitarianism, people should be treated equally regardless of their status and conditions of living. However, from the aforementioned stakeholders, the issues that have been identified to cause controversy on the ethical treatment of the prisoners include their health care facilities, the general principles that govern imprisonment, the intake of the prisoners into the facilities and their classifications according to several predetermined procedures, and the conditions of confinement. The personal securities of these prisoners, respect of personal dignity, rehabilitation and reintegration, and the administration of these prison or correctional facilities have also been source of conflict.
When dealing with inmates according to the predetermined classification procedure, the prison authorities should ensure that the prisoners are safe from any harm, either from their fellow inmates, or from the prison personnel. There is conflicting information about the conditions in prisons; however, it is evident that the former reasons for punishing individuals have been reversed. In the past corporal punishment was mainly used on inmates, which included torture that at times even led to the death in custody. Due to accountability issues, the prisoners have been exposed to better ethical standards of treatment that ensure they are transformed into useful members of the society upon their release.
My view in correcting the unethical treatment of the prisoners concurs with the utilitarianism principle that ensures that punishing offenders should yield happiness to the society and the offenders. If the offenders are treated fairly and reintegrated into the society, this would mean that the main reason for punishing them has been achieved. Just as the saying goes, an eye for an eye will only leave the world blind.
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