Prison Reform in Yemen [Archives:1998/40/Focus]

October 5 1998

This is an OPINION page.
Every week, a different intellectual writes a FOCUS on a pertinent issue!
Dr. Mohammed Awadh Ba-Obaid
Assistant Professor,
Sociology Department,
Sanaa University
Reality shows that there are still many big obstacles standing in the way of properly implementing modern penal methods in Yemen. So it may be a bit early to discuss the development of liberty-restricting means or finding better alternatives for them. This is not because such new ideas cannot be implemented in Yemen, but because of the need for a number of basic conditions which are not yet available in this country. These include the establishment of a sound foundation necessary for the success of any prison reform process.
There are a number of steps that need to be taken before any meaningful prison reform program can be instituted. Such steps may include the following:
1- Recognizing the History of Prisons in Yemen
The first formal prison in Yemen was opened in 1912 in Aden. Up to 1937, this prison had been run by Hindu Indians according to Indian laws. The prison staff then consisted of the prison governor, commander of the guards, a warden, 30 guards and a few Yemenis who were called upon when the need arose. There were only 40 prisoners in 1937.
A few minor changes were introduced in 1943. The Indian governor was replaced with a Yemeni. The prisoners were classified according to there crimes, nationality, and legal status – whether sentenced or just detained.
When the number of prisoners rose to 400 in 1946, the prison staff became 54. In the early 1950s, a number of prison personnel were sent to be train in Britain, India and Kenya. After a British inspector visited the prison in 1961, a new prisons’ law was issued in the same year to regulate prison administration and lay the main guidelines of prisoner treatment.
The first national prison law was enacted after independence in 1967, superseding all old laws and statutes. This law was amended in 1987, covering prison rules and regulations, prisoner treatment, rehabilitation, training health care, etc.
2- Current Legal Condition
Consisting of 45 articles, Republican Decree No. 48 was issued in 1991. It covers the procedures of internment, release, reform, rehabilitation, vocational training, health care, prison facilities, prisoner classification, disciplinary measures, carrying out executions, and the use of firearms to rein-in the prisoners. The law authorized the Interior Minister to issue the prisons internal statutes.
This new law has taken into consideration the prisoners’ human rights, clearly identifies the powers and responsibilities of the prisons administration and stresses punishing those who abuse prisoners or hurt their dignity.
Generally speaking, there are no contradictions between the spirit of this law and the minimum of international standards for prisoner treatment. The problem, however, lies in the absence of an explanatory charter and a statute organizing life within prisons.
Most important of all, though, is to know how this law is enforced in reality. This is important to evaluate the extent of adherence to the minimum of the international rules of prisoner treatment. This is not easy to do, in view of the absence of real information and serious academic studies. A preliminary over-view of prison conditions does not indicate that all is well there. Reports by human rights committees in Parliament and the Consultative Council stress the need to do a lot for conditions in Yemen prisons to become as required.
Other reports indicate that our prisons are in need of real reform and courageous changes. This is especially so considering that the main fault lies in mismanagement and the inefficiency of the cadre, either because of lack of actual personnel or their low training and cultural levels.
Deep and critical studies of the laws and statutes regulating prisons in Yemen are very crucial for achieving real reform.
3- Organization and Administration
Tangible progress has been achieved during the last 8 years in the administrative and organizational aspects of Yemeni prisons. Greater efforts are needed to further improve performance.
Training the staff and developing their administrative skills must have top priority during the coming period, especially in statistics and registration where there are still many shortcomings and loopholes. Attempts to solve these problems can rely on the successful experiences of some local prisons such as the Mansoura prison in Aden.
According to the above system, a criminal case is given a specific number at the police station. It is then transferred to the criminal register by the prosecutor’s representative at the police station. It is assigned the same previous number. When the case is reviewed by court and a sentence is passed, the case file is handed over to the court’s police. The latter takes the necessary information to the prison where it is entered with the same number plus another number given by the prison administration.
The criminal investigation department is informed of all the case developments, from reporting it to the police to putting the defendant in prison. This method has proved very reliable from the practical point of view. If adopted, it will help solve many prison problems.
4- Prisoner Reform &
Article 3 of the Second Chapter of Law No. 48 of 1991 stipulates that prisoner treatment aims to achieve the following:
1- Reforming and rehabilitating the prisoners through the use of all possible means of learning, education, medicine, vocational training, social service, sports, culture and recreation.
2- Creating the desire and inclination among prisoners to lead an honest living and be good, law-abiding citizens.
Applying the above legal text to Yemeni prisons requires the following:
1- Prisoners must be classified according to recognized scientific basis; some prisoners committed their crimes by accident, while others due to social, psychological or physiological reasons.
2- Assigning a particular category to each prisoner is very important for quarantining the efficiency of the prisoner reform and rehabilitation program.
3- Establishing suitably staffed centers for medical, psychological and social examination will help assess the prisoner’s personality, allocate the appropriate category, and specify the suitable training and rehabilitation program.
4- The improvement made by the prisoner in responding to the reform and rehabilitation program can be take as one of the criteria for parole or release.
Conclusions &
1- For the prison reform program to achieve its aims, it is important the previous successful experiences be taken into account.
2- Prison is considered the last judicial “destination” for a wrongdoer. So prison reform must be within a more comprehensive reform justice system. It must also include vitalizing the post-detention support programs.
3- There must be a whole system of laws and statutes organizing prisons in a way compatible with international agreements and conventions signed by Yemen. Obstacles impeding the full implementation of such conventions must be studied and tackled accordingly.
4- Short and long-term training programs must be conducted for the benefit of prison staff. The administrative, statistical and documentation systems should be developed.
5- More attention should be given to social, psychological and legal studies related to prison conditions. It is strongly recommended that a specialized criminal research center be established.