The Human Person Behind Bars

What is the purpose of the prison?

Concepts of justice, crime, and punishment are frequently discussed in philosophy. Justice is often defined as the exercise of fairness and equality in judgment. The prison, then, should be a means of disciplining and punishing those who commit a crime and put others in harm’s way, so that these people may refrain from committing such injustices in the future. Although, it has become questionable whether or not countries like the Philippines have been successfully upholding their ideas of justice.

The Philippine prison system has become a venue for human rights violations, as prisoners are subject to harsh living conditions within the prison walls. In a research done by Clark Jones, the Philippines’ prisons remain outdated and increasingly overcrowded due to insufficient funds from the government. The problem of overcrowding is worsened due to the ongoing war against drugs (Morales, 2017). In a Quezon City jail, over 100 inmates are packed into a room meant for 200, allowing for diseases to spread quickly along with other health issues. To make matters worse, all of its 3,000 prisoners are merely awaiting trial, so no one has been formally given sentence. As of 2017, these prisons’ congestion rate has reached 612% in order to accommodate over 146,000 inmates (Commission on Audit [COA], 2017).

(Image: AFP)

Moreover, prison conditions fail to provide the inmates with sanitary facilities and adequate amounts of food and water (Conde, 2016). Horrific reports even confirm accounts of police brutality and torture (Human Rights Watch, 2017). The treatment towards former convicts is an outright disrespect of these people’s dignity and a showcase of negligence towards the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners. Overall, the neglect of the government towards the needs and rights of the prisoners has allowed for these people to be subject to abuses by fellow inmates and by people of authority (Narag and Jones, 2017).

Being guilty of a crime does not lessen one’s dignity, it merely lessens the benefits one receives from the state. This means that the criminal should still be given the right to have basic necessities such as food, water, and shelter. The misconception that convicts are lesser humans allows for their abuse and maltreatment. Instead of treating them in this manner, government officials, along with the public, must acknowledge and speak up about the value of these criminals’ lives.

Before this can occur, what comes first is a complete understanding of the human person. Specifically, one must understand the concept of human dignity, and how it is inviolable and should be respected in every person. This means that regardless of the crime committed, we must recognize that convicts have the same dignity as those with a clean record. Just because they are in prison doesn’t mean that they can be mistreated.

A good way to educate one’s self about this, and how it applies to ideas of justice, is through the World Youth Alliance’s Certified Training Program. Through further awareness, various human rights violations may be discussed more substantially in public discourse for the purpose of upholding of the dignity and rights of these criminals and victims.


This article was written by Alyssa Loveres, current WYA Asia Pacific Regional Intern. Learn more about WYA’s Certified Training Program by visiting this link.



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