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Human Rights Issues in Prison

Compared to other Western prison systems, the United States’ system is perceived as“old-fashioned” and “barbaric.” It is time that the U.S. changes its perception of what a “jail” should look like. The current system is centered around the “custody and order” approach which, according to the Brennan Center, is “an endless parade of secur­ity meas­ures (caging, hand­cuff­ing, shack­ling, strip and cell searches and lock­downs) punc­tu­at­ing a daily routine marked by enforced idle­ness, the ever-present risk of viol­ence, often adversarial rela­tion­ships with prison staff and only sporadic oppor­tun­it­ies for construct­ive activ­it­ies offer­ing rehab­il­it­a­tion, educa­tion or treat­ment.” To keep up with other Western countries, the U.S. must move toward the idea that prisons rehabilitate and provide basic human rights. 


 In the U.S., prisoners do not have their full constitutional rights (however they are protected by the Eighth Amendment which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment), though additionally, I believe they also lack rights that are guaranteed by the United Nations. Most of our prisons allow discrimination within the system, lack cultural activities and education aimed at the full development of the human personality, enforce solitary confinement (which many view as cruel and unusual punishment) and lack resources for prisoners once released from prison. These are some of the examples that go against the United Nations Human Rights’ basic principles for prisoner treatment. The U.S. system’s prisoner treatment is not humane or fair. While some argue that they deserve to have basic human rights taken away as a punishment, I would like to counter this argument. Many prisoners facing these conditions are non-violent offenders. According to Prison Policy, one in five incarcerated people are locked up for a drug offense (roughly 374,000 people), a nonviolent crime. I truly believe that giving back basic human rights, at least for non-violent offenders, is a plausible change.  For “if someone close to you was arrested and in prison, how would you feel if they had their human rights being taken away and treated as if they weren’t even human?”


Kallie Fox is an undergraduate student at Purdue University. She is currently a senior who is majoring in Political Science with a focus in International Relations. She is also minoring in Mandarin and Law & Society. She currently works for the John Martinson Honors College at Purdue University as an Intercultural Ambassador and is also a chair member of the Honors Program Council. 


Acknowledgment: The opinions expressed in this piece are those of the individual author.


Sources

8469. “How Some European Prisons Are Based on Dignity Instead of Dehumanization.” 

“Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners.” OHCHR

LII Staff. “Prisoners' Rights.” Legal Information Institute, Legal Information Institute, 26 Dec. 

Wagner, Wendy Sawyer and Peter. “Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2022.” Prison Policy 


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