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Analytical Essay on Application of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Prisons

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Prison is defined as “A building in which people are legally held as a punishment for a crime they have committed or while awaiting trial” and in which inmates are involuntarily detained and have many of their freedoms restricted under the law. And the concept of them is designed to achieve four main purposes; “retribution, incapacitation, deterrence, and rehabilitation.” However, there is a constant debate worldwide surrounding most countries’ prison systems and their effectiveness in achieving the four purposes they strive for as well as the overall concept of prisons being the most effective way to achieve these four goals. Moreover, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam each uphold different views and beliefs on crime and punishment which often partly coincides with many prison systems but also clashes with certain countries’ prison systems and the use of certain punishments (capital punishment). To add to this, it is clear that in order for a prison to be effective there must be an acknowledgment and respect of people’s basic Human Rights and so I will look at whether prisons do regard them and treat them in the correct manner. This topic greatly interests me because it is one that is always relevant and is always in the news for reasons such as large levels of corruption, false imprisonments, and Human Rights violations and so therefore I would like to develop a deeper and greater understanding of it and focus in on what Christianity, Judaism, and Islam’s views are on it as religious beliefs are often involved in one way or another. To add to this, I attend a Catholic school and so religion is frequently a part of my life, so I would like to combine my interest in prisons with my interest in religions and further my knowledge I both. In my dissertation, I will be researching Christian views and beliefs on crime and imprisonment, and capital punishment. I will also be doing the same with Islam and Judaism, so I am able to compare prisons with multiple different religions to see where contradictions or opposing views arise between beliefs and the reality of prisons. I will also focus on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights so that I am able to look at both imprisonment and capital punishment to see whether either violate any articles in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. To add to this, I will focus in on a specific case study and analyze whether this prison violates human rights and also analyze it in comparison with the three religions I have chosen to develop a clear understanding of whether prisons and capital punishment are morally right or not.

Literature review

The prison system

Prisons have been around for thousands of years with earliest known records dating back to “the 1st millennia BC”. Originally used to detain people while they await their actual punishment, prisons gradually became more commonly used as the punishment itself for criminals and by the 19th century were being built solely for the intention of housing inmates, and to “deter people from committing crimes”. Today, there are roughly 10 million people in prison at any time around the world, with 3.2million of those having not yet had a trial.

Virtually every prison system around the world follows the same categorization of detaining prisoners; basing it on gender, age, the severity of the crime they have committed and the danger and threat they pose to society. Prisoners are divided based on gender, with women going to a female prison and men going to a male prison, the same is applied to age with young offenders (“under the age of eighteen”) being sent to juvenile institutions (though the name for this may vary depending on the country). To add to this, both male and female adult are categorized into three of four categories, again depending on the country though the individual categories themselves are very similar. Category A prisoners are those of most threat to society and others. They are those where the court and prison staff believe they are highly likely to harm themselves or others both in and out of prison and are likely to attempt to escape. Therefore, they are placed in maximum-security prison facilities. Category B prisoners though posing a large threat aren’t considered to be as dangerous as category A prisoners. The tightest security conditions are not required to hold category B prisoners, but the security is still required to be tight as “potential escape should be made very difficult”. This is because the risk of inmates attempting to escape or harm themselves or others is still high. Also, category B prisons are used to hold “un-sentenced prisoners, or prisoners on remand awaiting trial…unless they have been provisionally classified as category A”. Prisoners in both categories are given limited free time and can spend the majority of their day in their cell. The third tier of prisons is category C, home to category C prisoners which are those who “cannot be trusted in open conditions but are considered to be prisoners who are unlikely to make a determined escape attempt”.

The final category of prison is category D, home to prisoners of least danger to themselves and others and these prisoners can be trusted in open conditions. An open prison has a “more relaxed security regime” and they are frequently used “to prepare inmates for their release”. The majority of inmates in open prisons are “white-collar criminals doing time for crimes such as fraud and deception”, however, some inmates with more serious convictions like rape and murder can be placed in open prisons to serve the end of their sentence if they are deemed to be “low-risk” and this is often done in order to help rehabilitate those inmates for life outside of prison, especially for those who have served longer sentences. Inmates are allowed to roam freely but are required to attend a roll call and “they can be sent back to more secure facilities for disobeying regulations”. Cells contain more luxuries than other prisons with inmates often having a key to their cell, TVs and a locker and a wider range of catering options. To add to this, prisoners are provided with services to help prepare them for the outside world; “job preparation and finding accommodation, as well as debt, drug, and alcohol counseling” for those who require it along with life skills training in order to increase their employability.

Prisons are also split into two categories; open and closed prisons. The term Closed Prisons covers Category A, B and C prisons, containing most prisoners around the world. They are the more ‘traditional style’ and more commonly found prison with far more secure conditions where “people can not escape from them”. In contrast, Open prisons, which refer to category D low-security prisons, are where the inmates are given “more freedom than other prisons to move around and do things”. Inmates placed in open prisons are of the lowest threat and risk and are only put in them if it is believed that they are trustworthy. If an inmate ‘abuses’ this trust they can be immediately sent back to a closed prison. These prisons are also often used for prisoners serving the latter stages of their sentence in order to help the rehabilitation process and prepare them for society.

An inmate’s security category is reviewed throughout their sentence and the frequency of the reviews depends on the length of sentence they are serving. In a sentence of less than four years, “Prison staff will look at your security category every sixth month”. This increases to every year for those serving longer than four years, with the check being done by Prison Service Head Office staff for category A prisoners.

Today, the majority of prisons and prison systems around the world set out to achieve four common goals; “to protect the public by removing offenders from communities (incapacitation), to punish the offender – delivering retribution in a serious but proportionate way where a serious crime has been committed, to serve as a deterrent to the offender and/or to others and to rehabilitate the offender” . To add to this, most of the western world shares a common system of categorizing prisoners depending on the severity of crime they have committed and how great a threat they pose.

What are prisons like?

I am going to look at prison systems in countries with differing levels of success rates and also prison systems in less economically developed countries as well as more economically developed countries. In order to do this I have decided to focus in on two different countries; Norway, the USA.

The United States of America has the highest prison population rate at “655 people per 100,000” and a total of “2,121,600” people in prison (as of 2016) as well as having 30 states in which the use of capital punishment is still legal. One of these states is Indiana, where one of the Communications Management Units is situated, and “between 1897 and 2009 a total of 94 men have been executed” there for crimes considered to be “capital offenses”. A further ten inmates are currently on death row in Indiana, as of October 8th, 2018. To add to this, the USA spends on average $31,000 per inmate per year in running costs and have 4,455 prison establishments in total across the country. Recidivism rates stand at the highest in the world with 76.6% of first-time prisoners returning back to prison after their release. Moreover, the occupancy level of the prison system stands at 103.9% (as of 2014).

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Norway has a prison population rate of 63 prisoners per 100,000 members of the population and a total of 3,373 inmates (as of 2018) . To add to this, it “has one of the lowest recidivism rates in the world at 20%”. It’s occupancy level stands at 92.1% of its maximum capacity (as of 2017) and consists of 38 prisons across the country. It also has one of the highest rates of foreign prisoners in the world with 30.9% of the prison population being from abroad (as of 05/09/2018). The Norwegian government spends approximately £76,000 per prisoner per year in prison costs in order to keep their prisons functioning to the standard they wish and fulfilling the targets of rehabilitating inmates into society successfully.

Human Rights

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is a legal document passed by the United Nations on December 10th, 1948 to prevent the mistreatment some received during the Second World War, such as the Jews in Europe. Consisting of 30 articles, it strives to entitle everyone to a set of basic worldwide rights and protection from unfair treatment, creating equality for all. Since its establishment in 1948, the document has been internationally recognized by the majority of nations around the world and has been incorporated into many types of legal systems in most nations in order to comply with the United Nations and entitle citizens to the basic rights they deserve. Each of the 30 articles lays out a different right ranging from the right to freedom of speech and expression to the right to life . The Universal Declaration of Human Rights also outlines many rights which gave prisoners more rights aiming to reduce the amount of injustice suffered by those imprisoned and since its publication, has forced many countries to review the functioning of their prison systems in order to comply by them.

To add to this, in 2005 the United Nations wrote a document regarding the “basic principles of the Treatment of Prisoners”. In essence, this was an extension of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights directly focusing on the treatment of prisoners around the world. Containing eleven articles, the document lays out similar points to those in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, however with a direct focus on Prisoner treatment and welfare. It states that “all prisoners shall be treated with respect” and that there will be no discrimination at all or disrespect when it comes to a person’s faith or culture etc. Moreover, the document addresses more specific things relating directly to prisoners and prisons such as “all prisoners shall have the right to take part in cultural activities and education aimed at the full development of the human personality” as well as “efforts addressed to the abolition of solitary confinement as a punishment, or to restrict its use, should be undertaken and encouraged”.

Both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners combine to form an internationally recognized guide for every country to follow on how prisoners should be treated in order for prison systems to be fair and just, and so injustices are dealt with.

Religious views

Christian beliefs on Crime and punishment

Although Christians are taught that “sin is a part of human nature and that all people have the potential to commit a crime”, they also believe in not “taking revenge when they have been wronged”. Instead, Christianity teaches its followers that they “should forgive the sins of others”, just as God forgives them, and show Agape, unconditional love, to everyone. Therefore, it is more favored by Christians to seek justice and treat criminals “justly”, even when in prison by giving them an “opportunity to reform”, by following Jesus’ example and teachings that they “should reform sinners and not be judgemental in their attitude”. To add to this, “protection and deterrence” are considered to also be significant aspects of punishment. Christians who revert to the Old Testament more often believe that one of the more important aspects of punishment is retribution and that criminals should “be treated in a way that reflects the crime they have committed”; “But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth”. However, to add to this, in the New Testament Jesus furthers this teaching of dealing with criminals by saying to his followers “If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also”, thus informing them to not only show forgiveness but also to deal with criminals using surprising methods which “will hopefully encourage them to think about and amend their ways”.

Jewish beliefs on crime and punishment

Judaism teaches Jews to live and abide by “the rules of the Torah, including the Ten Commandments”. They believe that they should stick as tightly as possible to their laws and commit no crimes whatsoever as breaking their rules or committing a crime is “a sin against God” which is especially bad for them as they believe that after death their actions on earth “will be judged by God”. Therefore, people of the Jewish faith believe that when someone doesn’t stick to the laws and Ten Commandments, it is necessary that society punish the individual accordingly because God would punish them. However, they believe in fair punishment, as justice plays a large role in Judaism; they believe “God is just, and that God judges humankind”. The Jewish society has always contained some form of “justice system and courts” which has evolved through time into what is today known as the Bet Din (“house of judgment” ). In the Bet Din, Rabbis are appointed with the power to give a pronouncement over a case based upon the laws of Judaism, though in the UK, Bet Dins do not have the authority to “judge criminal matters” .

Another aspect of Judaism’s beliefs on crime and punishment is that they believe that the human rights of everyone, including criminals, should be kept in mind and respected. Therefore, fair trial and fair punishment are paramount to their beliefs, although they do recognize that some people are of such a danger to society that they need to be securely imprisoned for the safety of society. Despite this, they still believe that “the welfare of those in prison is of key importance” so it isn’t uncommon for many Jewish people to “campaign for prison reform, visit prisoners or vote for a political party that reflects their views on treating people equally”. The Torah and the Tenakh both contain many passages which discuss how people should be treated and how the justice system should be kept fair; “Seek good, not evil, that you may live. Then the Lord God Almighty will be with you, just as you say he is. Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts.” Jews believe that anyone who has broken the law can be reformed and so, therefore, the justice and prison system should aid and support reformation for everyone.

Islamic beliefs on crime and punishment

Justice is a key aspect of Islam as the Qur’an teaches about the importance of justice, and states that Muslims should “Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to God, even as against yourselves or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be against rich or poor”.

To add to this, Shari’ah Laws are “Islamic laws based upon the Qur’an and Sunnah” that lay out the ways in which Muslims should conduct themselves and how “they should behave in order to live the life that Allah intends them to live”. Many Middle Eastern countries and Islamic countries follow this system of law as their main legal system. In accordance with this system of law, followers of Islam uphold this belief that when a person breaks the law of the country or religion, it is necessary for them to be “punished by law”. Moreover, Muslims believe that if someone breaks any of these laws and in so commits a crime they will also “have to answer to Allah on the Day of Judgement” which is the final day on which Allah will determine how well humanity has lived. So, therefore, Islam teaches its followers to obey Shari’ah Law not just to comply with the rules of society but to live in accordance with how Allah intended humans to live.

As mentioned earlier, Muslims are firm believers in implementing justice when it is required. However, they believe this justice goes two ways and so it is necessary that the criminals involved are treated justly too and be offered the opportunity to rethink how they conduct themselves and reform.

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Analytical Essay on Application of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Prisons. (2022, December 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 29, 2023, from
“Analytical Essay on Application of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Prisons.” Edubirdie, 27 Dec. 2022,
Analytical Essay on Application of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Prisons. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 29 May 2023].
Analytical Essay on Application of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Prisons [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Dec 27 [cited 2023 May 29]. Available from:
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