You are here
Fostering Human Development Part 1
Today I commence sharing with you my address to the recently concluded 14th International Conference on Penal Abolition held here in T&T June 12–15. As stated in the flyer for the conference, it “is a biennial gathering of activists, academics, journalists, practitioners, people currently or formerly imprisoned, survivors of state and personal harm, and others from across the world who are working towards the abolition of imprisonment, the penal system, carceral controls and the prison industrial complex.” The Institute of International Relations of the University of the West Indies, St Augustine, hosted the conference. Here is Part 1 of my presentation: Moral wrongdoing is widespread across the many social groupings of our societies. Some people are caught by the law, a few are found guilty and fewer still are actually incarcerated in our prisons. It means that there could be many among us who have infringed our laws and who, in the interest of fairness, should rightfully also be locked-up behind the prison walls. Tragically, the poor and the powerless dominate our prison population while the wealthy and those who wield power continue to enjoy their freedom—driving luxury cars and living in upmarket neighbourhoods despite their wrongdoings.
Apart from the few who may be mentally unstable, prisoners are in the main normal human beings who have gone wrong. Should society just seek to punish them for their wrongdoing or should we be seeking to foster their development into more responsible human beings before they are released back into society? To me the answer to this question is the latter and is somewhat obvious. Hence, we must seek to foster prisoners’ development while in prison so that they become more self-disciplined members of our society. We know that the present approach with a heavily skewed emphasis on punishment rather than on personal development is not working—the recidivism rate of well over 50 per cent is clear evidence that just restraining negative behaviours does not necessarily result in personal development. Having answered this first question we are faced with two even more challenging questions thus: Can those who have gone wrong really be rehabilitated and changed into more responsible human beings? If so, how can this be done? I firmly believe that as human beings we each come into the world with a potential to develop into progressively more self-disciplined individuals who can contribute to the positive advancement of our humanity in unique and interesting ways. However, we must recognise that it is only a potential, the expression of which must be nurtured throughout our lifetime. I believe that we all have an innate human polarity that allows us to display behaviours that are highly human at one extreme and very brutish and animalistic at the other extreme. At the same time we are all endowed with a conscience that gives us the innate ability to determine what is right and good from what is wrong and evil.
However, we may not all have the same degree of awareness of our conscience and where our conscience is not fully awake we are more likely to deviate into immoral behaviours. Human goodness is intuitive to every human being. It is deeply ingrained in our nature. In fact our human goodness is our conscience at work. It is Epictetus, the ancient and stoic philosopher of the Discourses, who told us that: we are born into essential goodness, endowed with natural intuitions about what is good and worthy and what is not. This endemic moral capacity must be trained deliberately and systematically to bring out the best in full maturity. More recently, Nelson Mandela in his book, Long Walk to Freedom, reminded us that: all men, even the most seemingly cold-blooded, have a core of decency, and…if their hearts are touched, they are capable of changing. There is room for all of us to become better and more responsible human beings if only we can bring out the human goodness that is innate within us. The problem we have is that many among us do not believe that this is so and in our ignorance see punishment as the only real option for dealing with the wrongdoers in our prisons or wherever we find them in our society. It is this ignorance of the noble nature of our humanity that continues to dominate the operational policy of our penal institutions. We can end up brutalising our fellow human beings such that they display more brutish behaviour. Next week I will conclude my presentation in Part 2 of this article.
User comments posted on this website are the sole views and opinions of the comment writer and are not representative of Guardian Media Limited or its staff. Guardian Media Limited accepts no liability and will not be held accountable for user comments.
Please help us keep out site clean from inappropriate comments by using the flag option.
Guardian Media Limited reserves the right to remove, to edit or to censor any comments. Any content which is considered unsuitable, unlawful or offensive, includes personal details, advertises or promotes products, services or websites or repeats previous comments will be removed.