x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

A better way for inmates to do time

While criminals are in prison, it makes sense to find ways to help them stay out of prison next time.

The first thing a prison is supposed to do is to protect society from further depredations by dangerous criminals, while punishing those who have broken the law. But that's the easy part.

Around the world, academic theorists and hard-bitten wardens alike must tackle a more pressing issue: what happens when inmates get out? Few crimes, after all, carry life sentences; most prisoners go free after serving their time.

True, those in prison for debt sometimes find themselves languishing uselessly behind bars indefinitely, but that is a different story, one on which we have commented more than once.

No matter what the reason for incarceration, every prisoner who is released must live in society again and, it is to be hoped, with more success than previously. But a prison is not a finishing school; inmates may emerge more hardened and antisocial than when they went in. So making prisoners less dangerous to society is a prime task.

That's why jurisdictions around the world put a lot of effort into educating prisoners; not only to keep them busy but to give them a trade or skill with which they can make an honest living one day on the outside.

This has been formal policy in the UAE since 2008, when the federal government adopted a policy focused on social reintegration - including trades training and post-release help in finding jobs - for Emirati prisoners. (Convicted expatriates are deported after serving their time.)And as we reported yesterday, the trend towards rehabilitation is gaining steam. Ras Al Khaimah, for example, is opening a prisoner-built library at RAK's central jail. Every inmate arriving at Dubai Central Prison is assigned to a craft programme or an educational course. And so on.

Some of those who turn to crime come from troubled backgrounds; official and volunteer social work efforts can be helpful. And under conditions of enforced boredom, education may be a new allure for prisoners, even those with little previous academic accomplishment.

Some people may object to "pampering criminals" but this is the right policy to follow: when that criminal is released and becomes your neighbour, you will want him to have found a better way of life.