The Maldives has the 10th highest prison population rate in the world and our society is set up to perpetuate this rate.
The victory in 2008 ushering in democracy has barely lessened the number of people incarcerated. It has not changed how we treat people who have gone to jail, nor the causes for which so many of our people lose their freedom. It has not made us reflect on the effect this is having on our society. And as a nation we will suffer for this together.
Culture promoting criminality
Before we won the election, politicians on my side of the divide could have claimed that many of the prisoners in jail were the result of political repression.
But the problem goes beyond politics. The problem is societal and the responsibility now falls on each and every one of us to change the direction we’ve been heading in.
The vast majority of those arrested have been sentenced on drug related charges. We have 30% of our youth falling into drugs like heroin, and we are surprised that crime is soaring. We are surprised when gang related violence escalates, and we are surprised that Male’ and islands around the country are no longer safe.
Male’ is now split up by the gangs controlling strictly monitored lines. They hijack each other’s cars and motorcycles and go after one another with whatever weapon they can get their hands on.
For all of us who have nothing to do with these gangs, we just ignore it. We turn a blind eye because that’s what we’ve been taught to do for 30 years.
But political commentary aside, we each let this happen. We live in a small community where everyone knows everything about everyone else. We know when our neighbor is arrested. We know why the boy down the street was taken to jail and why the police kicked down his friend’s door the week before.
But instead of helping them recover and reintegrate, we shun them. We ostracize them and say they are not worth our time. Instead of offering a helping hand, we kick them to the curb as the wasted undesirable elements of our society. But with the prison population so high, it is a large part of our society.
Our prison population rate is the 10th largest in the world, and this is without all the people who have not yet been sentenced. We need to help these people join the working ranks and support our nation to grow. We need to stop abusing them with our indifference, and we have to make it clear to our government institutions and those who work for them, that we will not tolerate abuse against inmates and promote true rehabilitation instead.
We as a society have to help with rehabilitation. I don’t mean drug rehabilitation. I mean we have to teach inmates how to function in society and how to be productive members of it. But the truth is that rehabilitation was never a part of our penitentiary services. In the past, the entire prison institution was based around repression, fear, and control of the unruly elements of our society. The new government is trying to change that and I’ve seen more change in the DPRS (Department of Penitentiary and Rehabilitation Services) than in many of the other institutions, though even the DPRS has been subject to politically based manipulation by jailers, and not just by government sympathizers. However, what about all those people who have not yet been convicted?
These people are kept in police detention facilities. The same kind of facilities which have been responsible for custodial abuse reported recently. In addition to the kinds of abuse described by the inmates on DhiTV, there is a culture of brutality amongst the armed forces which needs to be addressed. Prisoners are constantly manhandled by their guards, whether they behave or not.
Further methods are used to ensure compliance and deal with unruly behavior. Amongst these methods are handcuffing inmates in difficult positions and leaving them for hours at a time under the hot sun, or if it is raining, leaving them out in the cold.
These are people who have not even been sentenced yet! Guilt has not been established. Due process has not been executed. And even if these people had been sentenced, they are still human beings and thereby extended inalienable rights; especially from torture. We suffered these kinds of abuses under the previous administration; it cannot be allowed to continue.
The attitudes within both the Police Service as well as the general populous need to be reformed. The Maldivian Police Service has made phenomenal improvement in how the deal with the citizenry, so there should be no reason why this cannot extend towards those members of society who are placed in their care.
We as society need to care about what happens to inmates. Without reform and true rehabilitation, we will never be able to progress as a nation.
We may have had a democratic election, but we still do not have a free society. The democracy monitoring international NGO, Freedom House, still ranks us as only partly free because of our apathy towards the prison population. We are such a small community.
We are all brothers, sisters, cousins, neighbors, and friends. We have no excuse to allow things to continue as they are. The shackles of tyranny still bind us. It’s time we start chipping away at these bindings, so that one day we will enjoy a free and stable society.
All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]