Rising Prison Population Threatens Harm to Individuals, Families, Society
Prison population is on the rise. It seems that the Head of the Judiciary’s warning to judges to refrain from issuing incarceration sentences has not been able to decrease the number of prisoners, which, nevertheless, continues to increase. According to the Mehr News Agency reporter, the Judiciary’s authorities have time and again criticized such increase, but their warnings and actions have not been effective in lowering the number of prison sentences issued by criminal courts. In 1979-80, prison population was about 8,000 people, and in 1981-82, around 13,000, whereas today, it is 158,000. It is not clear whether it was changes in criminal laws or simply a general increase in the number of crimes and the rate of violence in society that have been the cause of this rise. Every year, 600,000 individuals enter prisons; this is a serious threat to the well-being of families and of future generations, as it can have grave and destructive consequences for the individual him/herself, their children, and society as a whole. Surely such statistics are not becoming of the Islamic republic. According to statistics released by judicial authorities, there are currently 17,000 people in jail for [non-payment of] Dieh, and 4,000 for [non-payment of their] dowry [obligations]. It has been stated that in the event that the Bill for the Amendment of Guidelines for the Implementation of Financial Sentences passes [in Majless, the Iranian Parliament], individuals will no longer be incarcerated for financial reasons. However, since it takes years for bills to be considered in our country, it doesn’t seem as though we would witness the implementation of such a law any time soon. The Head of the Judiciary has expressly and clearly stated that “incarceration in Islam is not what we’re implementing and I must say that imprisonment in its current form is a product of western civilization.” It is therefore not clear why incarceration continues to rise, when even the number one judicial authority in the nation is not happy with current conditions. The Head of the Judiciary’s directive to judges to refrain from issuing heavy prison sentences could be rooted in the rise in judges’ misconduct in adjudicating various cases this past year: the Judiciary’s spokesman recently alluded to the suspension of six judges for illegal arrests, and of one judge for illegally obtaining confessions. According to Jamal Karimirad, insult, illegal arrests, and illegally obtaining confessions are the main violations committed by judges and they have been dealt with appropriately. This prompted the Head of the Judiciary to issue a directive to prosecutors all over the country to supervise arrests made by different [court] branches, and to identify the judges who issue endless arrest orders in violation [of laws and the directive]. It is questionable whether this directive is being implemented in a precise manner. The Tehran Prosecutor’s Deputy for Prisons Affairs has said that the analysis of judges’ rulings in various jurisdictions indicates that most judges have understood and complied with the Head of the Judiciary’s directive and that they tend to issue fewer incarceration sentences. This, however, is not what the increasing prison population indicates. The Head of the State Organization for Prisons and Security and Rehabilitation Actions has also criticized the increase in prison populations: “There should be 15 to 20,000 prisoners in the Islamic Republic of Iran, instead of 150,000.” This means, in effect, that issuing alternative sentences can prevent 130,000 people from going to jail. All the while, the Bill for Alternative Punishments to Incarceration, which might be the only way to release a significant number of prisoners from jail, has been lingering in the Majless for a long time, nothing having been done for its consideration and passage. The bill provides for utilizing alternatives to incarceration as a way to decrease prison population, as well as for classifying inmates based on the nature of the crimes committed. Until it is passed, however, the number of individuals entering prisons will continue to rise without any serious attempts at implementing alternative punishments. As announced by the State Organization for Prisons and Security and Rehabilitation Actions, the following six countries have the largest numbers of prisoners in the world: the United States with 2,186,230 inmates, China with 1,548,498, Russia with 862,501, Brasil with 361,402, India with 336,152, and Mexico with 212,744. We must keep in mind, however, that the [larger] population of these countries as well as the [high] levels of violence there, are in no way comparable to Iran.