The Universal Directive for Human Rights in the Context of Prisoners

The Universal Directive for Human Rights in the Context of Prisoners

The Universal Directive for Human Rights in the Context of Prisoners

The universal directive for human rights (UDHR) is a document that upholds the human rights of all people. The document, which was developed in the aftermath of World War II, comprises 30 articles, with each outlining different entitlements for human beings. The documents bind the organ of the society, especially the state, to facilitate the fulfillment of these rights. Therefore, the paper discusses the extent of the applicability of the declaration. In addition, the document discusses the position of the prisoners concerning the human rights espoused in the declaration.  

Part One

The 30 articles of the UDHR privilege specific human characteristics. It recognizes and upholds the people’s freedom of choice and from harm and equality and dignity. Also, the UDHR privileges access to resources and opportunities (Claiming Human Rights n.p.). Moreover, the articles recognize humans as social beings and entitle them to access any social activity or attain their desired social status. The declaration understands essential human characteristics either negative or positive rights.

Positive rights are those that require actions, whereas those that oblige inaction are negative freedoms. An individual has a negative right to a characteristic against an agent if the latter is prohibited from acting upon the former in a certain way with regards to the characteristic (Claiming Human Rights n.p.). Similarly, an individual has a positive right to a characteristic against an agent if the latter is mandated to act upon the former in a specific manner regarding the characteristic. For example, article 5 is a negative right because it prohibits an agent from torturing a person. Conversely, article 14 of the declaration is a positive right, as it requires governments to facilitate the access of asylum from persecution.  

The rights of UDHR are universal, indivisible, interdependent, and interrelated. Universally, the rights apply to all people across the globe regardless of biology, social, cultural or economic characteristics. Indivisibility of the rights means that they are intrinsic to the dignity of every individual, such that they cannot be ranked. Taking away a right hinders the fulfillment of other rights. Interdependent and interrelated mean that each right contributes to the realization of people’s dignity through holistic satisfaction of their needs. Therefore, the attainment of a specific right depends wholly or partly on the attainment of many freedoms.

Governments have the primary duty of promoting and safeguarding human rights. The preamble of the UDHR states that “.. every organ… shall strive to promote respect for these rights …” (Claiming Human Rights n.p.). Businesses, individuals, and civil societies are charged with protecting and fulfilling human rights outlined in the declaration. Therefore, the state must collaborate with the other organs to facilitate human rights. For example, businesses must ensure that their products or services cannot inflict harm on consumers, in line with article 3 of the declaration – the right to life. Also, the fulfillment of the right to work (article 23) depends wholly on the facilitation of the ban on discrimination (article 2).

Part Two

Recently, the media highlighted prisons as the institution where rampant violation of the UDHR occurs. An article by The New York Times depicted the conditions in different prisons in the state of Alabama, the U.S. The report indicates that prisoners undergo extreme inhuman treatment, ranging from torture to rape, sodomy, and murder by their fellow inmates. The correctional officers do not supervise them to protect them from such heinous treatment perpetrated by other prisoners (The New York Times 1). Even though the authorities are aware of the inhumane conditions of some of these facilities, they do little to improve the situation thus begging the question of whether prisoners have rights.  

            Prisoners have rights because they are humans. Since the declaration states that human rights are universal, indivisible, interdependent, and interrelated, prisoners deserve the same treatment as other humans, and all their privileges must be fulfilled. In disregard of the declaration, the experiences of prisoners in incarceration facilities involve extreme torture and death (Rosenberg 1). Inmates deserve all the privileges afforded to lawful members of the communities, including the freedom of worship (Symbonds 3). The fact that they committed a crime does not take away their humanity. As such, they need access to essential resources to survive. Otherwise, there is no need for subjecting convicts to harsh conditions and violence in prison as it may result in death; instead, they should be executed. It is futile to incarcerate offenders and provide essentials to keep them alive while withdrawing adequate protection from fellow prisoners, who may abuse or murder them. Correctional facilities should promote the rights of inmates to fulfill the cause for the institution, the rehabilitation of criminals for their release to society. Therefore, the declaration does not discriminate against any person as the law is universal.       

Part Three    

Conversely, prisoners should not have rights because they do not respect the privileges of other people. There is no need to fulfill the rights of prisoners since they do not recognize these freedoms. Taking away these rights forces convicts to appreciate the values of the former. As such, they will respect them once they complete their prison terms. Similarly, withholding these rights will deter these criminals from committing offense in the future. Therefore, taking away some rights of this population works well to rehabilitate them. Implementing all the human rights in prison will undermine the purpose of the correctional facilities of rehabilitating the outlaws. In fact, availability of the basic and other rights in prisons make people prefer prison to the streets. For this reason, they have to commit crimes to access the resources provided in the facilities. Hence, prison department should take away more of the entitlements in the declaration to make prisons unattractive. In addition, facilitating these rights on prisoners involves spending massive resources. As such, it is more fruitful to channel the funds to programs that target the underprivileged, lawful citizens such as the homeless. The constraint on states’ budgets necessitates them to take drastic measures and direct more resources in providing services to law-abiding citizens who pay taxes rather than the freeloading prisoners. The funds used to run prisons can also be used to provide scholarships for poor bright students, to help them succeed in live and contribute to the economy of the country in the future. Thus, more children and young adults will become self-reliant and will avoid crime.

Part Four

Governments should not accord prisoners any freedoms because their incarceration results from infringing the human rights of other people. The declaration obliges all individuals and state organs to promote the human rights of people. However, criminals have opted to defy the declaration thus necessitating the withholding of some of their rights. The fulfillment ceases to be rights and become privileges, and agents are not obliged to fulfill a privilege. Therefore, taking away some of the rights of prisoners reduce the funds used in their fulfillment. As such, the resources can fund more rational projects such as increasing medical cover for the general population or rescue and recovery programs for natural disasters like hurricanes. Furthermore, taking away the rights of prisoners will make prisons less attractive some people, who perceive prisons as better places than having to live in the streets or a deprived neighborhood. Granting prisoners all the rights contained in the declaration is tantamount to undermining the purpose of the prison, which is to deter crime.   

Works Cited

Claiming Human Rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 2010. <http://www.claiminghumanrights.org/udhr_article_29.html#at31>.

Rosenberg, Carol. “Guantanamo Bay as Nursing Home: Military Envisions Hospice Care as Terrorism Suspects Age .” The New York Times 27 April 2019: 1-12.

Symbonds, Alexandria. “Overlooked No More: Martin Sostre, Who Reformed America’s Prisons from His Cells.” The New York Times 2019: 1-7.

The New York Times. “‘No One Feels Safe Here’: Life in Alabama’s Prisons.” The New York Times 2019: 1-5.


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