A prison is a highly specific space, with a history of complications. It is one area that not many Arabs wrote about, and which did not receive the academic attention it deserves away from politics and its interferences.
French Philosopher Michel Foucault was among the few who discussed the subject of prisons in his book Discipline And Punish: The Birth of the Prison published in 1975.
It is a study on the changes in power and the mechanism of punitive action, and how that pattern has changed in Europe, specifically France, moving from purely punitive action to the modern version based on improvement and rehabilitation. Therefore, it is more than a place for spending time in solitary confinement!
In his book, Foucault refers to how psychiatrists and social workers, together with program managers and the prison staff work side by side to create an atmosphere that monitors the behavior of prisoners.
Apart from the philosophical controversy that Michel Foucault raised about the concept of “censorship”, it is an example of the institutionalization of prison and how it transformed prison into an active entity that shapes the thinking and behavior of peopleHassan Al Mustafa
This same monitoring is spontaneously transformed into individual and collective behavior, in a way that each inmate exercises a kind of self-censorship, which makes the prison society more disciplined, thus creating a law-abiding environment that is committed to order.
Apart from the philosophical controversy that Michel Foucault raised about the concept of “censorship”, it is an example of the institutionalization of prison and how it transformed prison into an active entity that shapes the thinking and behavior of people — just like schools, universities, police, and so on do.
This controversy, which was stirred by Foucault some 43 years ago, is what Arab societies need, especially as we are undergoing a phase of transition towards a civil state governed by the rule of law, wherein we seek to improve the quality of government services and respect for human rights and to provide a safe environment that adopts modern standards.
The care and rehabilitation program, Binaa, which detainees at the General Intelligence Prison in the Eastern Province of the Kingdom benefit from is one such ambitious project that deserves to have its own “workshop” involving the program’s organizers, civil society actors and the families of detainees.
This is especially since the program is working to reshape the functions of prisons and its outcomes and the roles that must be carried out by supervisors. Are they punitive institutions, or are they places for rehabilitation, as Foucault pointed out?
The Binaa program reflects in its essence a transformation on several levels: intellectual, functional, conceptual, and technical and its work team includes educational, social and psychological specialists from outside the traditional security system.
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Binaa can achieve a lot of success and help create a model environment for the rights of detainees and reintegrate them into society through the active participation of the inmates’ families, society and the relevant authorities.
If everyone is engaged in this initiative in a transparent and open-mind approach, without fear or prejudgments, this will positively reflect on the detainees, their families and their environments, and it will curb violence and extremist ideas.
This article is also available in Arabic.
Hassan AlMustafa is Saudi journalist with interest in middle east and Gulf politics. His writing focuses on social media, Arab youth affairs and Middle Eastern societal matters. His twitter handle is @halmustafa.