Right to Rehabilitation of Prisoners in BD
William Randolph Hearst said, "Most criminals are not born; they are made. What the State really punishes in a criminal is often its own neglect, its own failure to do its duty to the citizen."
Do we actually punish criminals? Or the state simply hides its failure for not making good citizens? The questions of reformation and rehabilitation of offenders soar from this thin difference of failure of a state and punitive approaches of punishment.
When we talk about the reformative approaches of punishments, we often blend them with the abolishment of the death sentence. These are two distinct phenomena. A criminal justice system can have both the death sentence and other rehabilitation mechanisms at the same time.
But, in Bangladesh, 'punitive approach' is the only stigma in the case of punishing an offender.
Is the stigma sufficient to reduce the crime rates in Bangladesh? Have the laws been able to remit the number of offenders in the country?
If that was really possible the 68 jails of our country would not be having 88,424 prisoners, against the capacity of beholding 36,614 prisoners. It is evident that Bangladeshi prisons are flooded with 150 per cent more prisoners than its capacity. Moreover, the Penal Code-1860 does not have a single provision regarding the reformation of offenders as a consequence. This is no way how a country should improvise its criminal justice system.
Generalizing all offenders and generalizing all punishments do not bring any good to the practice. This is not even wise to categorize every offender in the same category for a similar punishment.
Bangladesh may take the example of 106 countries of the world that not only abolished death sentence but also formalized its rehabilitation mechanisms for reducing the numbers of offenders in their respective countries. It does not need to abolish the death sentence but at least it may adopt reformative approaches taken by those governments.
Norway and Sweden are the pioneer countries in terms of reformation of offenders. Those countries have no bars in prison cells, the prisoners move freely in the Jail. Especially, Norway has a separate Island run by the prisoners themselves for reforming the offenders. Considering the economic and other conditions, Bangladesh can do something affordable and best suiting to its economy.
Although Bangladesh has some of the laws supporting reformation, but they do not bind the government to emphasize on the practice. The Children Act, 2013 is the pioneer of reformative jurisprudence in the criminal justice system of Bangladesh. Sections 5-15 of the Act asserts the appointment of a probation officer, Child Welfare Board, the establishment of 'Children Desk' in police stations as a matter of grace towards the reformation of child delinquent. Sections 59-69 imply the establishment of 'Child Development Centre' to pamper the child offenders. And at the very end, this Act affirms the initiation of 'Alternative Care' for the Child Offenders.
With a remote interpretation, Section 31 of Domestic Violence Act (Prevention and Protection), 2010 can be related with the spirit of Reformation. Where it is asserted that offenders may be sent to perform community services to reform himself and compensate the victim. Sections 31-41 of the Prisons Act, 1894 somehow support the reformative justice. Those sections emphasize on taking care of health, employment and invigilating civil and criminal prisoners or un-convicted prisoners to help them psychologically.
According to section 34 of The Prisoners Act, 1900, the criminals may be referred to reformatory schools for reforming themselves. This section is more accurate and to the point regarding the reformation of prisoners. Also, section 399(1) of Code of Criminal Procedure-1898 directs that child offenders shall be sent to probation centres.
But, Bangladesh does not have any consolidated legislation regarding the rehabilitation of offenders, which clearly doesn't serve the purpose. But from the perspective of International Law regarding reformation, especially United Nations (UN) approved Rule 58 of Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners-1955, Article 10 & 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights-1966 and CRC-1989, it is bound to enact laws for propagating 'Right to Rehabilitation' as a human right in criminal justice system.
Nevertheless, Bangladesh Jail Administration System has introduced the approach of reforming the offenders by establishing Probation Centers for Child Offenders, and Garments and other income generating activities in Moulavibazar, Narayanganj and Dhaka Central jails. To make those establishments successful Government may increase budgets for Prisons in Bangladesh as the probation centres and other 65 jails in Bangladesh literally provides zero facilities or an insignificant number of facilities for reforming the offenders.
Reformation or rehabilitation of offenders is improbable if the government does not go for single and full-fledged legislation similar to UK's Rehabilitation of Offenders Act of 1974. The government may cultivate the parole system more emphatically in Reformation approaches. Policy makers may focus on promoting the human dignity of prisoners as a legal value within national discourse, as this strategy can encourage legal recognition of a concrete right to rehabilitation.
Prison authorities may also buckle up recreational, educational and vocational programs in the prisons. Like USA and Western European countries, Bangladesh can adopt the system of mediation between the offender and the victim of his crime that involves meetings between them and mediators offering opportunity to the offender to explain his conduct or apologies to the victim, where the victim gets a chance to explain how s/he was mentally, materially, or physically affected as a consequence of the crime. But first, the Government has to enact a full-fledged law to institutionalize rehabilitation as a right for a better criminal justice system.
Sakhawat Sajjat Sejan is pursuing LLM at University of Chittagong; Sabrina Chowdhury is a law
graduate of BRAC University