Imprisonment Alternatives to Incarceration

Coming up with alternatives to incarceration has been a major concern internationally in the last one decade. As a result of poor treatment of prisoners, high cost of administration and violation of fundamental human rights in various countries and the need to come up with alternative ways of dealing with crime is on the rise. The paper will emphasize on the reasons for coming up with the alternatives by the United Nations, violation of human rights in prisons such as liberty and the misuse of prisons. It will also focus on the challenges of coming up with alternatives, decriminalization, actors involved and the role of United Nations in coming up with reforms.

Imprisonment can be defined as the act of confining someone in prison either awaiting judgment or serving a jail term. Every country in the world has prisons where individuals found guilty or accused of committing a crime are confined. Internationally, there are more than nine million prisoners. However, cases of poor health, malnutrition and deaths have been reported as a result of the poor conditions and treatment given to the prisoners, hence the United Nations felt that there was a better way of dealing with offenders rather than exposing them to unhealthy conditions and lowering their dignity by treating them without respect.

Reason for applying Alternative Way of Dealing with Crime
Numerous reasons have been provided by concerned bodies such as the Human rights movements, Courts, tribunals and the United Nations in line with providing an alternative way of punishing criminals. Even though most people and countries believes that imprisonment is a sure way of dealing with crime and providing punishment to criminals the United Nations is coming out strongly to oppose the use of prisons as rehabilitation centers since most of the criminals are treated with a lot of disrespect and prisons are becoming overcrowded hence increasing the chances of death as a result of the spread of diseases such as air-borne diseases (tuberculosis), (Bondeson, 1994).

Individual Liberty
According to the United Nations (2007) liberty is one of the most fundamental human rights in the world and recognized in almost all constitutions allover the world and in international human rights instrument. Liberty of an individual can be violated in different ways either by the government that should protect it or by an individual(s) within the society. Imprisonment does not only violate the liberty of an individual but also impinges several other human rights as a result of poor conditions and lack of basic social amenities such as cloths and proper housing.

The United Nations and other bodies concerned with human rights are now working on proper ways or alternative ways in dealing with overcrowding and poor management in prisons and are coming up with basic standards that should be met by prisons internationally in order to ensure that the fundamental rights and freedom of an individual are not violated by exposing prisoners to unhealthy conditions and subjecting them to danger as a result of malnutrition and poor medical attention (United Nations, 2007).

High Cost
For the last one decade, the cost of maintaining and managing prisons has proved to be expensive world wide the statistics that were released in the year 1997 indicated that US 62.5 billion has been used as direct cost in administration of prisons, putting up structures, feeding prisoners and taking care of the prisoners hence most countries are now embarking on alternative ways of dealing with criminals rather than taking them to prison. The cost of running prisons is on the rise as a result of increasing cases of diseases such as tuberculosis and Aids due to overcrowding and poor health care in most prisons hence majority are losing their lives as a result of poor treatment (United Nations, 2007).

Misuse of Prisons
According to the United Nations (2007), prisoners especially petty offenders who are from poor background or the vulnerable in the society are sometimes imprisoned for a lengthy duration that do not correspond to the crime committed. Some are even taking longer duration before they are brought to justice or taken for hearing hence violating their rights as human beings. Alternative means should therefore be developed to ensure that the prisoners are not mishandled by the policy makers due to their ignorance or position they occupy in the society.

Arguments on the positive and the Negative Impacts of Prisons
There are several reasons why prisons were previously thought to be the most effective way of dealing with criminals, suspects or the accused in the society. Prisons are believed to be the best place where criminals can be denied of their liberty, keeping them from engaging in other criminal activities and allowing them to be rehabilitated as they serve their term in prison.

However, according to the United Nations (2007), there are more humanitarian considerations in offering an alternative way of punishing criminals rather than confining them in prison. The increasing cost of running prisons, violation of human rights and the cost of maintaining prisoners has led to the increasing need to come with the best alternatives in reducing the cost and making good use of prisoners by respecting their fundamental human rights and meeting the United Nations standards (United Nations, 2007).

Challenges in coming up with the Alternatives
Coming up with the alternative means of punishing criminals has been a challenge in most countries allover the world. To ensure that the alternative choices of dealing with criminals are fully implemented, there must be a good political will to implement the changes and recommendations, even though the legislators, judicial authorities, lawyers and administrators are supposed to play a central role in ensuring that formidable changes are made. It is worth noting that the community members are equally important as they can assist in implementing community based alternatives to imprisonment without putting the rights of the offender at risk (United Nations, 2007).

However, the alternative ways of dealing with crime in the society can be of great danger to the government, individuals, victims of the crime committed and may not serve the interest of the community members. Coming up with alternative ways may result to few people being imprisoned as a way of dealing with crowd. This may lead to increased crime rates in the community, as many people will commit petty crimes since their chances of being arrested are reduced (United Nations, 2007). It is therefore true that alternative ways may be of an advantage to the prisoners than the victims of the crime or the community as a whole hence certain considerations must be put in place to ensure that the interest of both parties are met.

The Role of the United Nations
The United Nations has played an instrumental role in ensuring that certain standards are met globally to protect the basic human rights of individuals. The most relevant bodies and organizations in ensuring that these standards are met are the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child are one of the most relevant bodies in coming up with standards and in ensuring criminal justice(United Nations, 2007).

The United Nations as a body has therefore been active since the end of Second World War, when most of the people were killed and their fundamental rights violated in different countries by certain individuals. The United Nations has made a lot of progress in coming up with the alternative ways of dealing with criminals taken to prisons, by ensuring that certain standards are met. In 1986, the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for Non-Custodian Measures was implemented in Tokyo, taking into considerations the views of different stakeholders, scholars, experts and legal practitioners on the rights of individuals, victims of the crime act, offenders and the interest of the society (United Nations, 2007). However, the Tokyo rules are not the only instruments used by the United Nations as a means of offering an alternative to imprisonment.

According to Bondeson (1994), decriminalization is the process of changing the law so that conduct that has been defined as a crime is no longer a criminal act. Some countries or societies have changed their legal systems and redefined their constitutions to eliminate other sections or provisions that are not applicable or that do not fall under crime. This can be done for various reasons it can be done to satisfy the interest of the members of a society or it can be done to ensure that certain fundamental rights of an individual are not violated either directly or indirectly, for instance, several countries in Europe and other parts of the world have decriminalized public drunkenness in the last one decade and this had a great impact especially to the individuals that were still serving their jail terms in prisons as a result of committing related crime, they were referred to welfare agencies instead.

This was evident in Australia where the indigenous were grossly over-represented in the prisons population and the government had to come up with an appropriate way of dealing with the issue, the government of Australia then decided to decriminalize public drunkenness, a crime that was once defined in Australian constitution (United Nations, 2007).

Actors that can enhance the Changes
There are important and relevant actors that can ensure that certain reforms are made in the constitution for the interest of the community. The legislators must be willing to come up with legislations to do away with or decriminalize certain forms of conduct in prisons both by the stakeholders and the prisoners. This can only be made possible if the general public and the non-governmental organizations advocates for the reforms in the existing criminal codes. Such organizations are always important in fostering changes in the community however the police and the prosecuting authorities must lead in diverting suspects out of the criminal justice system (United Nations, 2007).

The alternatives to imprisonment came as a result of several factors ranging from poor conditions, malnutrition, overcrowding to violation of fundamental human rights. As a result, various actors came up with strategies that could ensure that the rights of the prisoners were not violated and the interest of the community was also not put at stake. The United Nations have also played an important role in coming up with standards that could ensure that prisoners rights and the community interest were fully satisfied. However, most countries in the world are coming up with strategic ways of decriminalization by removing other sections or clauses in the constitutions that were previously considered a crime, by involving legal departments and other authorities.


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