Correctional Systems and Human Rights

Correctional Systems and Human Rights

     It is important to understand that correctional systems—while certainly being associated with issues of human rights—do not operate independently of cultural influences. Correctional systems express the consequences for a lack of conformity to social standards; it is culture, however, which instills those standards in the first place. The recognition of human rights is therefore found in both the philosophy of a society as well as the correctional system which acts upon this philosophy. Correctional systems represent synthesis between punishment and the sensitization with the social world which hopefully recognizes crime in a fair manner.

     As an example of unfairness: “The Abu Ghurayb prison…is where Saddam Kamal…oversaw the torture and execution of thousands of political prisoners” (Intelligence, n.d.). This is perhaps hardly surprising to American sensibilities since we have come to associate Iraq in general with crimes against humanity. A closer examination, however, reveals a deeper understanding of this situation. In 2002, “When Saddam [Hussein] announced his general amnesty for virtually all the nation’s prisoners, the mob…started what looked like a traditional anti-American rally” (Intelligence, n.d.). Especially in considering tradition, we would assume that anti-American sentiment is tied with the culture of Iraq and an inherent loyalty to Saddam Hussein. “But the mood changed once it became clear the prisoners [of Abu Ghraib] could bust through the gates without any resistance from the guards” (Intelligence, n.d.). The mood was then one of favorable optimism toward President Bush. Cultural directives—as indicated by this scenario—are not necessarily shared by the citizens of Iraq as some unquestioned heritage. Anti-American expression can be seen to be more a matter of survival. If the correctional system of Iraq is founded upon the philosophy of culture, we have to remind ourselves that this culture is also more broadly-based and lies in the hands of everyone—not only those willing to violate human rights.

     As a way of describing the broad aspect of the culture of Iraq: “Arabs, Kurds, and other ethic groups each have their own social stratospheres, and no one ethnicity dominates another in a caste system. In terms of social class there is great disparity between rich and poor” (Culture of Iraq, 2007). Even if we are given a clue concerning why crimes may take place—the disparity between the rich and poor, for example—it is necessary to realize that the culture which may promote crimes is not also linked with the particular cultural element which advocates torture in correctional systems like Abu Ghurayb. In discussing human rights issues, we have to remain focused on the actual victims and why this level of violence is allowed to take place.

     The situation in Iraq demonstrates a pattern which can be compared to that of other countries. Perhaps this pattern of crime and punishment can be regarded as universal, distinguished primarily by the measure to which human rights are violated. Even though we might assume that it doesn’t, the United States also has faulty mechanisms regarding the operation of its correctional system. To illustrate:

Soon after [Scot] Payne’s suicide, the Idaho Department of Correction’s health care director inspected the prison and declared it the worst facility he had ever seen. Don Stockman called Payne’s cell unacceptable [and] would have only enhanced the inmate’s depression…leading to his suicide. (MSNBC, 2007)

     In speaking about this prison, reformer Caylor Rolling said, “they cut corners because the bottom line is money” (MSNBC, 2007). In thinking about human rights, is there any distinction between those who suffer in Iraq and in the United States? Isn’t the United States more apparently concerned with human freedom?

     Our American cultural personality can be considered the high-octane fuel for the capitalist and democratic engine powering our national being…therefore, it is well worth identifying and protecting this fuel from contamination and dilution so as to preserve the performance of our engine. (Painter, 2007)

     These remarks are significant since they, through the use of metaphor, appear to express the justification which is needed in operating correctional systems. In its emphasis on cultural well- being—expressed as both capitalism and democracy—the American tradition needs to be free from contamination. In other words, what is faulty should be rejected, or even put into prison regardless of the consequences to human rights. This is, of course, only a generalization which seeks to compare cultural philosophy with correctional systems. Not all prisoners commit suicide; this is used as a drastic example to show the possibility of human rights violations even in the United States.

     Even if human rights issues may be ignored in specific instances in both Iraq and the United States, we should address the possibility that:

Moral relativism, “diversity” tolerance campaigns that often lump people together by stereotype or race, and certain religious factions that promote cookie-cutter thinking…pose a real danger to this [independent thinking]. (Painter, 2007)

     This suggests that we should make allowances for the influence of culture as it pertains to the way correctional systems are operated, but we shouldn’t jump to conclusions that human rights are totally ignored in Iraq and that they are typically nurtured in the United States. Again, does it matter if human suffering takes place in that country or this one? Human rights issues are always going to be significant, and should be the foundation for any correctional system.


Culture of Iraq. (2007). Retrieved Dec. 19, 2008


Intelligence. (n.d.). Abu ghurayb prison. Retrieved Dec. 19, 2008


MSNBC. (2007). Suicide reveals squalid prison conditions. Retrieved Dec. 18, 2008


Painter, J. (2007). Eight american cultural traits. Retrieved Dec. 20, 2008