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July 3 2022 12:32 PM ˚
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Stakeholders debate Jordanian prison system on Mandela Day

Stakeholders meet recently in Amman to discuss inmates rights in Jordan (Photo: Handout from DIGNITY)
Stakeholders meet recently in Amman to discuss inmates rights in Jordan (Photo: Handout from DIGNITY)
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AMMAN — “The only way to protect rights and bring justice to inmates is by building a solid legal ground and holistic constitutional laws”, stressed the facilitator of the Protection Commission at the National Center for Human Rights (NCHR) Nahla Al- Momani, noting that "what we have of recommendations and instructions are advisory, not binding, and rather subject to appeal." اضافة اعلان

During a seven-hour workshop organized by NCHR, the Danish Institute Against Torture (DIGNITY), Mizan for Law, and stakeholders from the Public Security Directorate, Bar Association, and Ministries of health and social development all joined to discuss the current conditions of correctional and rehabilitation centers in Jordan in light of the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Nelson Mandela Rules).

The event, held on Wednesday, is an extension of Nelson Mandela International Day that is celebrated on July 18 every year to commemorate the anti-apartheid activist who was incarcerated for 27 years but became a symbol of hard-won liberation and the first president of South Africa.

“In this day, we are here to highlight the rights of prisoners, who count for over 10 million worldwide,” said Eva Abu Halaweh, lawyer, human rights activist, and CEO at Mizan, in her opening statement. “Imprisonment punishment is not a revenge or dehumanization of perpetrators, but rather to deter committing crimes through reforming and rehabilitating errant individuals,” she continued.

In this regard, the NCHR representative pointed out the change Jordan adopted to replace the 1953 Prison Law with the Reform and Rehabilitation Centers Law of 2004.

However, Momani highlighted that despite the paradigm shift and great efforts exerted, “some provisions of the law are still absent while others are wide and undetailed enough,” she said.

Citing the NCHR’s third periodic report of 2021, Momani discussed some of the insufficiencies in the Jordanian correction law. “Holistic medical care was a focus of complaints among inmates, given the lack of direct obligation to psychiatric care or gynecological service, for example.”

The protection commissioner also mentioned articles relating to lawyer visits that failed to specify all circumstances, which resulted in restricting their presence during the onset of complete lockdown in 2020.  

Momani further called for more elaborated regulations of inspection and when intimate body searches are necessary while favoring electronic devices usage instead of manual touch to respect the integrity of inmates.

Other complaints also raise concerns over classification and transference, as “inmates who need to be transferred to other facilities were grouped with those heading to hospitals; a thing that slowed down the progress and caused to some problems,” Momani said. 

Other attendees and human rights activists spoke of the dissatisfaction inmates expressed over the limited social contact in light of the pandemic, demanding longer durations of private visits and phone calls. 

However, the Public Security Directorate’s Major Raed Al-Soud said that since the outbreak of COVID-19, the directorate has adopted parallel procedures to cope with the emerging needs, where number of phone calls have been doubled with over 623,000 calls made last year.

“Saying that the reform and correctional programs in Jordan are inhumane means that we have institutional approaches that sanction torture, but this is totally unfounded and far from the truth,” the officer said.

‘Packed Cells’
Prison overcrowding was among the prominent issues that were raised in the workshop.

Speaking of infrastructure, the secretary of the Trustees Board at NCHR Saif Al-Jundi stated that although overcrowding was reduced to 132.6 percent (with 17,708 inmates) in 2020 compared to 149.5 percent (with 19,965 inmates) in 2019, the packed cells amplify risks over inmates’ health.

“There were several complaints about the increased number of patient inmates versus the inadequate medical personnel and equipment, such as CBC,” said Jundi, who also underlined poor ventilation and infestation of some insects and rodents in crowded buildings.

Currently, inmates outnumbered capacity by 3,797 inmates with a 128 percent occupancy rate. While the prisoner count is estimated currently at 17,500, the capacity of the seventeen centers across the kingdom does not exceed 13,288 individuals, said the head of the Judicial Department at the security directorate Ayed Rababa.

However, Rababa said that PSD has taken several measures to combat coronavirus, which include dedicating new facilities to receive newcomers for two weeks before sending them to main centers to prevent the spread of the virus. 

From his side, Soud noted that since the outbreak, COVID-19 infections recorded only 231 cases, which does not exceed 0.5 to 1.5 percent of the total number of inmates.

Abiding by the social distancing protocol, Soud added that over 24,000 trials were held online and that 12 out of 17 centers are technologically activated for distance court sessions. The major also discussed government adoption of alternative penalties and community services as a solution to reduce overcrowding amid the pandemic.

Halaweh, for her part, shared her analysis of the issue. The lawyer attributed the overcrowding to the Penal Code which was amended in 2017 to allow extended sentence duration. “The extended prison term not only increases the number of inmates but also leads to other issues, clashes, and even riot,” she said.

Halaweh also discussed the 1954 law and how the administrative detention cases that reached over 37,000 only in past year might be a significant factor leading to overcrowding.

Women inmates
“Women account for 47 percent of the Jordanian population; yet, there is only one detention section compared to the 17 facilities for men,” said Dalal Sawalha, head of Juweideh Reform and Rehabilitation Center for Women, PSD.

She added that the center is well-equipped with facilities to meet all needs, including “holistic medical care, aftercare programs, and colorful comforting room for newcomers”.  

Momani noted that not all women inmates are detained for committing crimes, as some are victims of violence that were abandoned by their families and ended up taking the center as a residential shelter.

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