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Human Rights in Prison

Punishment vs. Human Rights — Are Prisons Going Soft?

Though I don't know of many prisons guarded by the likes of the two pictured below, with the changes happening to crime and punishment in the US, it might not be long. With one out of every 100 Americans behind bars, and prisons turning criminals out to meet their budgets, the debate between what's a human right, and what liberties need be taken away as punishment is a tricky one. Several states have just come to some conclusions — on the side of rights.

In New York's juvenile detention centers, transgender youth are now allowed to wear whatever gendered-uniform they associate with and be called by whatever name they request, as well as receive access to special housing under a new anti-discrimination policy. The enhanced rights are drawing praise from advocacy groups. A spokesman for Governor Paterson said the policy reflects the state's intent to be "tolerant, responsive and respectful" of gender identity and gender expression issues.

Hawaii and California join New York among the small list of states that have taken steps to afford specific civil rights protection to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth in juvenile detention. This comes after a 2001 report found that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth routinely experienced discrimination, harassment and violence in New York's juvenile justice system.

Got Milk? To find out what happens if you're a vegan behind bars,


In Massachusetts a federal judge found that the state prison system violated one prisoner's civil rights by denying him a vegan diet. Though the prison system had offered the man a standard vegetarian diet, he has spent nearly a decade seeking a ruling to receive a vegan diet that excludes all animal products, including eggs and milk products.

His reasoning to require the diet? He's a Buddhist (now) and had a religion specialist testify "explain[ing] why it was wrong to consume food derived from animals and explain[ing] the concept of karma and suffering." Why is the man in prison? He beat his 5-week-old son to death by throwing him onto a hardwood floor, repeatedly stomping on and kicking him, before turning his violence on the his child's mother. He may need more than soy milk to atone for that karmic digression.

Rights are returning after prison in Florida, where Governor Crist announced this week that more than 115,000 felons are to regain their voting rights. The expansion of prison rights might come as a comfort to two California high school students who are facing 69 felony counts for hacking into their school's computer system to change their grades. One of the hackers could face 38 years behind bars. An extra-credit report or two might have been a better solution?

What responsibility do prisons have to cater to human rights? Where do rights stop and punishment begin?


Join The Conversation
lovelie lovelie 9 years
I've been reading through all of the comments on this article and I think what we have here are conflicting ideas of what prison is for. This is very common...some people view prison as a place to punish those who have committed crimes and nothing more. Others see prison as a place that is suppose to provide rehabilitation. As long as these two views exist, no one will agree on this matter. Personally, I think prison is what the inmate makes of it. Many individuals do believe it is a wake up which case they serve their time and go on to live normal productive lives. However, true criminals (which I believe are those who commit crimes not for necessity but just because they can) will take nothing out of matter what it does or does not provide for them.
onabanana onabanana 9 years
What part of any of your post even hinted at the part where you thought the current system was remotely bad? There was a lot bypassing ideas of reform, change, compassion, respect of civil rights. No one here ever said victims don't have rights, it goes with out saying that their suffering is terrible. "let them have at it?" Really? How very Roman, let's throw in a lion and see what happens.
UnDave35 UnDave35 9 years
Bella "I swear where is Dave with kill the all comments" I've been working. Now that I'm here, I'll weigh in with my 2 cents. Jail is supposed to be a place of punishment and rehabilitation. The more serious the crime, the more serious the punishment. If you can't show/prove that you're able to be rehabilitated, then you shouldn't be let out. If we have serious overcrowding issues, we could always create prisons on a remote island in the south pacific. (Oh wait, that's how we got Australia)
ohbaby7 ohbaby7 9 years
that man gave up his right to choose veggies over eggs when he killed his son.
Great-Sommelier Great-Sommelier 9 years
Explain them to me, I am apparently too stupid to understand.
gitsie123 gitsie123 9 years
I don't understand how you can relate human rights to prison's going soft.When go to prison you forfeit civil rights not human. The comment above mentioning murderers,rapists, and molestors having ago at each other is completely stupid on so many levels.
Great-Sommelier Great-Sommelier 9 years
ona, what part of any of my posts say I agree with the current system? I abhor the current system. And ona, the worse prison is, the more desperate people will be to stay out of it. I think that non violent criminals shouldn't be in a yard with murderers and rapists, but I think we should let lose murderers, rapists, and child molesters have a go at each other. And another one of your posts about being let out....well I think quite of few of them should never be let out. There is a woman in colleyville, tx who sits in front of the business run by the man who murdered her sister. He tries to have her removed, but she stays off his property. He was her brother-in-law and he killed her sister. He was in jail for 11 years. So killing your wife gets you just a shade over a decade. But I bet he is really rehabilitated. Just my personal opinion. i don't write policy. Cat, I love your sass. Hypno, as always you make valid and well thought out points.
amybdk amybdk 9 years
Onabanana and hipnoticmix: I appreciate that you both look into the gray areas of this issue and not just see things as black/white. thank you!
bellaressa bellaressa 9 years
See what I mean about sassy. :lol: @ Ben Gay. So, wrong on many levels.
CaterpillarGirl CaterpillarGirl 9 years
sassy, i havent been called that since i went to church with my grandmother and told her everyone smelled like ben gay.
onabanana onabanana 9 years
I guess that's why I got the "extreme" title. Point taken.
bellaressa bellaressa 9 years
Great points hypnoticmix. WTF, killa em all? CaterpillarGirl -you're way too sassy.
CaterpillarGirl CaterpillarGirl 9 years
kill em all
onabanana onabanana 9 years
hypnoticmix, I totally agree!
onabanana onabanana 9 years
Ive meet more entitled college students then entitled criminals.
onabanana onabanana 9 years
What part of showing compassion and creating a better system that actually achieves the goals of making society safe do you not understand?! I don't disagree the people need to be punished if they commit crimes. Clearly you don't read all my posts! I don't advocate that we slap people on the hand and call it a day. If we're going to spend this much time and money on this, it should achieve more than creating more angry criminals. If you buy into the current system as the best way of punishing people then I hope you carry pepper spray because with the crappy economy more crimes are going to be committed people are going to be angry and we're going to have to build more jails. If simple retribution is the goal then let's start really making people really pay for it. on the spot capitol punishment would send a clear message.
hypnoticmix hypnoticmix 9 years
The Root. The Root. The Root. If you have an ugly shrub you don't waist your time pruning it a million and one different ways. You get to the root of the problem. We need to plant new seeds when it comes to our penal system. The only saving grace of having a system that is broken is that it show's us clearly how to have a system that is not. Studies not to mention common sense and real life examples have all shown that investing in our children with full parental guidance, fully funded; early and primary education coupled with an after school program is the best crime deterrent we know. Yet when it comes to funding these programs we are at a loss. This is unacceptable.
Great-Sommelier Great-Sommelier 9 years
"On what can be done...perhaps better counseling....job placement opportunities...peer mentorships. I don't really know, I would would begin with asking why crimes are committed. Is it just economics? Is it a combination of economics, neglect, abuse...poor nutrition, and chemical imbalances....? I would think that people who believe that they have a future, a future that is attainable and desirable don't throw it down the drain." Could it be the sense of entitlement, lack of consequences and absense of personal responsiblilty?
Great-Sommelier Great-Sommelier 9 years
ona, you forfeit your rights when you infringe on mine.
Great-Sommelier Great-Sommelier 9 years
Thanks, I have had some time on my hands! I think you are great too. I appreciate anyone who sticks to their guns and do it with class and humor. So kudos.
onabanana onabanana 9 years
I didn't think believing in fundamental human rights and the constitution was so "extreme." These are rather old school ideas this country was founded on. I think of my self as rather geeky, "Extreme" might be an upgrade. On what can be done...perhaps better counseling....job placement opportunities...peer mentorships. I don't really know, I would would begin with asking why crimes are committed. Is it just economics? Is it a combination of economics, neglect, abuse...poor nutrition, and chemical imbalances....? I would think that people who believe that they have a future, a future that is attainable and desirable don't throw it down the drain.
bellaressa bellaressa 9 years
I swear where is Dave with kill the all comments. :LOL: Great Sommelier you know you a trip-you been on fire for the last two days. :lol:
Great-Sommelier Great-Sommelier 9 years
Well said bella. Now ona, what part of Break the law (i.e. deny someone else of their rights because there is NO victimless crime) = Go to Jail do you not understand?
bellaressa bellaressa 9 years
Okay, all the TV's aside. Prisoners can't vote. However, they are entitled to receive education and a slew of other things depending on their behavior in jail. I work for an organization that owns 4 colleges and we have a lot of prisoners in prison who write to us for catalogs so they can take online courses. You know if they want to they can, I am sure not everyone is at that level in jail depending on how their life was prior. I work with a lot of ex cons who need help with basic reading skills before they can take the GED just to pass. However, yes there are bad things happening in jail but there are some people that think jail is a free pass because they have been there or they know a lot of people who said their time was easy. They may have family members their or their own family in most cases. It is no walk in the park, they still face the same things they would in the streets time 20 b/c of the isolation and the all men factor. Prisons are dangerous more so for the ones that were petty thieves or did small crimes and also for the men and women who work in the prisons from the prison guards to the staff who serves the food. The system is broke - the statement about the TV was specific to death row inmates not prisoners that can become part of society again. Also, there are also people in prison on death row - we had an incident in Chicago maybe 6 years ago where it was found out that almost half of the prisoners were innocent on death row. Bless Northwestern Law School and their students for taking these cases apart. The rehabilitation of these prisoners is no better. A lot of prisoners get out just go back b/c they can't cope with the outside world and they know how to cope inside. So, I ask what do you think needs to happen for the system besides educating our youth and helping them to make better decisions can we do as citizens of the United States.
CaterpillarGirl CaterpillarGirl 9 years
I am going to start calling you "extremeabanana"
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