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The rights of prisoners according to Islamic teachings

As it was previously mentioned, the prisoner must be allowed to visit the sick or attend the funeral of a family member. On the other hand, if the prisoner wishes to be transferred to another prison, a comfortable means of transport must be used, and the cost of transport must be met by the prisoner if s/he requested the transport and can afford the cost of transport, otherwise it must be paid from the prison budget.

Men and women prisons

Prisons for men must be staffed by men entirely and those for women must be staffed by women only. Men may not staff women prisons and vice versa. Male staff must be married and so too must female prison staff 91. If any of the prison staff wanted to live with his/her family, in the living quarters of the prison complex, they may do so. Juveniles must be segregated in prisons. It is important to have separate prisons for boys and girls.

Insanity of prisoner

If a prisoner became insane s/he must be treated and if their illness is incurable, s/he must be detained in mental hospital or unit. If it was diagnosed that the prisoner would develop insanity or other such illnesses (as a result of being imprisoned) s/he should be released from prison. No to Violence

Prison staff may not use force with prisoners unless in cases such as self- defence, or to prevent prisoner escape or to prevent a prisoner harming others. In case force was used it must be reported to the prison governor immediately. Prison staff must be trained to deal with abusive prisoners. Prison staff may not carry guns unless they have written permission and that they are qualified to use it.


Teaching and education program must be provided for the literate and the illiterate prisoners as well as the young offenders so that their time is not wasted without any education for those who want to study.

Employment inside prison

This is to reduce or prevent such conducts as sexual harassment and abuse.

Rights of a Prisoner

The prison management must prepare prisoners to work in accordance with their intellectual and physical abilities. Work opportunities must be available to stimulate and also encourage them to earn for themselves and their family through honourable means. Prisoners must also be trained to gain new work related skills especially for the young prisoner. Prisoners must choose the work they wish to do and not be compelled to do so. The standard of work conditions inside prison must be the same as those outside so that prisoners are prepared for life outside. The interest of prisoners must take priority over that of the prison institution.

Labour law

The working conditions such as the number of working hours per week must be the same as those for workers outside prisons. Similarly prisons must have a day off work and must have enough time to engage in recreational activities.

Observation of religious occasions They must also be given the chance to observe or celebrate religious occasions.

Equal treatment

If a prisoner accomplishes manual or scholarly work s/he should be paid according to rates outside the prison. He should be allowed to spend his/her earnings on himself or his family. The prison should be provided with the facility to secure his wealth either through a bank or through the prison service itself.

The insane

The insane, and mentally retarded may not be imprisoned. As for one who suffers from periodic insanity may only be imprisoned (for committing offences) during recuperation periods.

Diminished responsibility An individual may not be imprisoned for a crime if s/he was forced, impelled, etc. to commit such an act.

Death of prisoner If the prisoner dies as a result of part of the prison building collapsing or due to flooding, earthquake, etc. and the prison management had

anticipated such events 92, in that case the prison authority should pay compensation (blood money). Similarly if the prisoner lost a limb or sustained other injuries, he is entitled to compensation. However, if the prisoner dies of natural causes there is no compensation to pay.

Prison building

The prison building must be strong enough such that prisoners do not easily damage it. There should be no tools or means inside the prison that could be used to damage the building, harm other fellow prisoners or even harm themselves in any way, such as hanging.

Prison staff

Prison staff must have an appropriate mental and intellectual level as well as being physically able. Prior to assuming their post in prison they must have received relevant education and have attended specialist-training programmes to prepare them for the tasks involved in such posts.

Furthermore they should maintain those standards but also develop further during their service. They must have a conduct such that they set a good example to the prisoners in terms of behaviour and moral values. Prison staff as well as the general public must be made aware of the role and importance of prisons and the prison service.

The salary of prison staff must reflect this aspect and must compensate the important hard work involved. There may even be bonuses given in appreciation of the excellent services provided by the prison staff. Such bonuses could include leave of absence, etc.

Expert services

The prison management and staff must be supported by specialist services such as those of psychologists, sociologists, medical, mental, and technology experts on a permanent basis. This is to give prisoners the best opportunity of education and training while in prison in order to deliver a reformed individual to society.

Education of prisoner Prison managers and higher authorities must consider prisoners as part of the society and not the outcast from it. Therefore a prisoner must receive e.g. through forecast by relevant authorities, expert recommendation or evaluation, etc.

Rights of a Prisoner

ethical and moral treatment and education as a person and as a responsible member of society. Arrangements must be made to ensure that a prisoner is appropriately received by the society when out of prison.

After release

The community must be made involved in preparing a prisoner to interact with society. Social workers must ensure that they are in contact with their families and that with the aid of relevant organisations the newly released prisoner’s civil rights as well as those for social security are protected within the framework of Islamic law.

Prisoner rights group

There should also be organisations recognised by the government, responsible for safeguarding the rights of the newly released prisoners and in charge of visiting them, arranging for their recreation and helping them to join the society as reformed members.

Prisoner’s future

The prison service and other authorities associated with the prisoner such as the judge, etc. should contemplate about the future of the prisoner as soon as the prisoner enters prison. The prisoner should be encouraged to be in contact with organisations that can help him and his family and prepares him to rejoin the community again.

Prison categories

The law applies to the different kinds of imprisonments, which are divided into three categories under Islamic system:

Provisional Detention

In this case a suspect is detained pending investigation into the case. It has been reported that the Prophet (S) detained a murder suspect for up to six days pending investigation. 93 It is also reported that Imam Ali (A) detained a murder suspect while investigating his accomplices. This policy is not specific to murder cases only but is applicable to other cases. It is reported that Imam Ali (A) judged a debtor to be detained. If it were The rights of prisoners according to Islamic teachings proven that he was bankrupt he would be released in order to earn money, and if appropriate, pay back his debt. 94

Fraud Imprisonment In this case someone is imprisoned for transgressing or violating other people’s right, which is a crime. It is reported 95 that Imam Ali (A) imprisoned three categories of offenders:

One who usurped (others belongings/wealth/land etc.); One who extorted the wealth/property of the orphan; One who embezzles the deposit entrusted with him.

Criminal Imprisonment

In this case those convicted of committing a crime are imprisoned. The author has mentioned a number of such cases in the “Book of Hudoud”. 96 In a reported case 97, four individuals engaged in a brawl using knives and while they were drunk. Imam Ali (A) judged to imprison the four until they were sound again. Two of the four died as a result of the severity of their injuries. Imam Ali (A) judged that all four were responsible for the injuries sustained on the four. The blood money of the two dead men is shared equally between the four and the compensation for the other two is taken out of the blood money given to the deceased’s next of kin.

Traditions and customs of the new judge

At the end of this section it is worth mentioning that it is a good practice that the new judge looks at the affairs of those imprisoned by the previous judge. This is to make sure that no one innocent or one who served his sentence remains in prison.

In the book al-Mabsout 98 the author, Sheikh al-Tousi, said when the judge assumes office, the first thing he should look at is the affairs of the prisoners in an isolated prison, as prison is a (place of) torment (for the prisoner). There may be cases where someone has served beyond his sentence unnoticed.

In Sharae’ al-Islam 99, (the author) Muhaqqiq al-Hilli states (the newly appointed judge must) inquire about the prisoners and prepare a list of the names of the prisoners. In a public announcement the new judge calls upon the plaintiffs against each of the prisoners to appear on a set date.

Then the judge asks each of the prisoners the reason for their imprisonment. The judge then seeks the plaintiff’s claims and if the latter’s claims stand the prisoner is returned to jail, otherwise he is freed;

unless someone else raises a claim against him in response to a public announcement by the newly appointed judge. Also if a prisoner appears before the (new) judge and says, “I have no accuser”, and then if no plaintiff appeared against the prisoner, after a public announcement he is set free. It is stated that he would be freed under oath. Other scholars have stated similarly too. 100 This is also the case in other sects of the Muslims. One of the senior scholars; Abu Isaac al-Shirazi states, “It is desirable for a new judge to look into the affairs of the prisoners, for prison is torment and punishment (to the prisoner), and perhaps there are those who must be released.

Some aspects of the duties of a judge

It appears that the duty of the judge does not end with issuing the prison sentence, but it is his duty to follow the affairs of the prisoners through his assistants and through government organisations responsible for preparing prisoners to join the community again. Such organisations must create the atmosphere to encourage the prisoner to want to live within the law, to create the sense of responsibility and respect for himself and the community.

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