Date of this Version
Contrary to popular beliefs and commonly held rhetoric, rights are not naturally given to people/residents/citizens. Very few, if any, rights are inherently granted by virtue of being born a human being. Although the authors of the Bill of Rights (in the USA) as well as the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights want us to believe that these rights are innate, in fact they were fought for and only barely achieved. At any given time, there are counter forces that actively push to minimize and reverse rights that were gained after long and hard struggles. For example, in the United States the “sacred” right for privacy was vastly violated with the signature and support of President George W. Bush soon after the attack of September 11, 2001 was carried out within the boundaries of the country. This is but one example where rights are not guaranteed forever and are only in place so long as there are enough people actively fighting to keep them and, if possible, to expand them.
My argument, though my data are mostly US-based, is that the rights of prisoners and ex-prisoners are an excellent measure and estimate for the strength of human rights in a given society. The more punitive and exclusionary are the policies towards prisoners and ex-prisoners, the less protected are the rights of citizens in general. The more a society excludes prisoners and ex-prisoners, the more ready it is to limit the rights of other members of that society. I would welcome a comparative study of this topic to assess which societies treat prisoners and ex-prisoners more humanly and which in a more exclusionary manner.
Date Posted: 26 November 2008