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Prison system in Sri Lanka subjects the prisoners to degrading and inhuman treatment says HRCSL report

Image: An edited version of the front page of the Prison Report.

“The living conditions of prisoners not only fail to adhere to the basic standards stipulated in national and international laws, but also subject the prisoners to degrading and inhuman treatment. This is exacerbated by the overcrowding of prisons due to multiple factors, including bail being an exception rather than the norm, and persons being incarcerated for minor offences for which they could be directed to community corrections.” says an 863 page Prison Report published by the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka:

The conclusion of the report:

The Human Rights Commission’s Study of Prisons has highlighted the shortcomings in every key aspect of the existing correctional system, with the failure to adhere to minimum
standards on the treatment and conditions of prisoners, to which they are entitled under national and international human rights standards, prevents the incarceration system from fulfilling its ultimate purpose, the prevention of crime.

The living conditions of prisoners not only fail to adhere to the basic standards stipulated in national and international laws, but also subject the prisoners to degrading and inhuman treatment. This is exacerbated by the overcrowding of prisons due to multiple factors, including bail being an exception rather than the norm, and persons being incarcerated for minor offences for which they could be directed to community corrections. Due to the overcrowding existing meagre facilities have to be distributed among a prisoner population that is manifold the capacity of prisons, which has an adverse impact on the provision of basic services to prisoners, including health care. This in turn has a harmful impact on the mental and physical health of prisoners.

Short-staffed prison administrations are not able to meet the demands of effective correctional care, and instead, the impact of challenging work conditions causes officers to lose job satisfaction and experience mental distress. In this regard, the welfare of prison officers requires particular attention, since their remuneration and benefits do not reflect the stressful and dangerous nature of their work, nor are they provided support mechanisms to deal with the psychological impact of their work. The lack of training, particularly on nonviolent means of addressing order and disciplinary issues in prison, and human rights, and the lack of human and other resources, such as modern technological equipment, exacerbate the challenges faced in administering the correctional system in a humane manner within a human rights framework. Thus, the prison system as it currently exists arguably does more harm than good and needs to be restructured along with the required legal and policy reform, in order to fulfil its true purpose.

At the same time, the shortcomings that have been unearthed point to larger systemic and structural shortcomings in the system, which require legal and procedural changes as well as increased financial and human resource allocation. While there are a number of issues that can be addressed directly by the Department of Prisons, given the impact of a number of institutions and processes on the administration of prisons, issues such as overcrowding cannot be resolved by the Department of Prisons alone as illustrated by this report. Findings of the study revealed inter-connecting factors that require simultaneous reform to effect. For instance, key reform in the criminal justice process, from the point of arrest and detention to the functioning of Magistrate Courts where the award of bail is first decided, and the delays in the trial process which can even last for up to twenty years, is required to transform the incarceration process into an effective rehabilitation and correctional care system. The provision of legal aid and

To reform the existing correctional system, it must be acknowledged that the system is not progressive in terms of the philosophy, policy and procedures upon which it functions. As reiterated throughout the report, the philosophy of the penal system needs to evolve into one with a correctional and rehabilitative focus, rather than a solely punitive purpose.

Moreover, attention should be paid to ensuring that the period of incarceration enables the person to successfully integrate socially and economically post-release and live a dignified life, if the purpose of the system, i.e. prevention of crime and the creation of a society that respects the rule of law, is to be realized.

It is hoped that this report will be used by the relevant Ministries and stakeholders to understand the status quo and will enable them to formulate progressive policies for reform. Any action to reform the criminal justice and correctional process should be undertaken bearing in mind that all citizens, despite their conduct or crime committed, are entitled to be treated with dignity.

Read the full report as a PDF:Prison-Report-Final-2

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