The prison according to Goffman, is a total institution. To be locked up in a physical, psychological and social sense, a situation in which there is no escape and the prisoner has no control is to deny the individual the ‘rudimentary choices of everyday life’.
Indeed where he lives, what time he goes to bed and when he gets up, the food he eats, the people with whom he eats, works, plays, and sleeps, the clothes he wears all these are chosen for him. The deprivation of choice… tends to be felt as an attack on the inmates manhood…’ the constant supervision and regimentation and the elaborate system of rules and regulations characterizing the prisons, are said to represent moral condemnation and rejection by the society.
The process of this rejection and moral condemnation is to begin: …with an inmate’s arrival in prison; a new inmate…is introduced to prison life through a series of ‘degeneration ceremonies’ designed to dramatise the moral condemnation being heaped on him and to create a sense of worthless and denigration…his clothes and other personal possessions are taken away from him; his head shaved; he is stripped naked, forced to shower…and subjected to a humiliating search of every orifice in his body.’
Silverman identified the psychological consequences of all processes the inmate goes through in the prison. The idea of stripping him naked represents dominance over him and this makes him emotionally and physically vulnerable, shaving his head symbolizes ‘emasculation’; replacing his real name with a number which gives a powerful blow to his ego; depriving him of his material possessions, is to be stripped of ‘an integral part of self’, and constant surveillance gives the prisoner the feelings of inadequacy.
The absence of any opportunity for heterosexual relationships makes the prisoner feel figuratively castrated by his involuntary celibacy. The lack of heterosexual relationship threatens the prisoner’s sense of manhood and womanhood. The prison is often said to be the darkest region in the apparatus of the justice system.
It is an apparatus for transforming the individual criminal into a normal, law-abiding citizen. The idea of prison itself is the isolation of the offender from the rest of the society. Even within the prison walls, the individual prisoner must be isolated not only to individualize his penalty, but also to ensure that the gathering together of different convicts with different criminal backgrounds is put in check. Lack of isolation can encourage the formation of future complicity; breed prison revolt and plots; and create atmosphere for immorality.
Is A Prisoner Deprived Of All His Fundamental Rights?
Is a Prisoner deprived of all his Fundamental rights? Or, is it okay to treat a human being on death row inhumanely since “He’s as good as dead anyway”. Prisons usually give some images of dark dungeons, high perimeter fencing containing inmates who are equal to monsters, therefore are given the treatment they deserve.
According to Norval Morris and David J. Rothman the prison evokes images of ‘stark, forbidding walls spiked with watchtowers; inmates banging on the bars of their cells…’ The Prison Act for example, provides certain rights and privileges relating to feeding, clothing, bedding, visits and communication. Accordingly, every prisoner shall be allowed a sufficient quantity of plain and wholesome food; provided with a complete prison dress; provided with suitable bedding; allowed to receive a visit from friends in the presence of a prison
Accordingly, every prisoner shall be allowed a sufficient quantity of plain and wholesome food; provided with a complete prison dress; provided with suitable bedding; allowed to receive a visit from friends in the presence of a prison officer, and to write and receive letters at the discretion of the superintendent.
The United Nations stated some basic principles for the treatment of prisoners and they are:
- All prisoners shall be treated with the respect due to their inherent dignity and value as human beings.
- It is also important to respect the religion beliefs and cultural percept of the group to which prisoners belong, whenever local conditions so require.
- There shall be no discrimination on the grounds of race, colour, sex, language, religion, political, or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.
- All prisoners shall have the right to take part in cultural activities and education aimed at the full development of the human personality.
- They are also entitled to adequate medical and psychiatric care. And their physical safety must also be ensured at all times.
The Nigerian Prison
Nigerian prisons are not reorienting institutions, but a dehumanizing one. Reform is no longer the objective here; but instead, they beat and break you, and physically and mentally destroy you.
On February 10, 2014, the Voice of America reported that ‘Rights organizations in Nigeria allege that conditions in the prisons are appalling and say they are investigating allegations of overcrowding, beatings and killings.
The first major problem in Nigerian prisons is the high number of persons awaiting trial. The majority of those awaiting trial have been in prison custody for over ten years. The available infrastructures are designed to cater for this category of prisoners, and this makes prison administration extremely difficult.
The high rate of prisoners awaiting trial may be due to a number of factors which are: inadequate legal aid facilities, police abuse of arrest powers and bail conditions, poor prison infrastructures, court congestion and lack of speedy trial, corruption and so on.
The second major problem associated with prisons that are of universal application in overcrowding, in terms of the relationship between the total capacity of a person and the actual number of admissions of prisoners. The overcrowding in Nigerian prisons is not in terms of space, but in terms of available facilities.
The fact is that the prisons were designed and constructed during the colonial era for different purposes than what the criminal justice system requires today and this is why they look like; “a relic of abandoned civilization.”
Prisons’ Rehabilitation Programmes And Facilities
A major problem in prisons is that of inadequate rehabilitation programmes and facilities. This reason may account for high recidivism rates. As the saying goes an idle mind is the devil’s workshop. Prisoners left unoccupied with positive and constructive activities are likely to engage in vices, such as sale and abuse of drugs. They are also likely to perfect their criminal activities by learning from one another all the necessary tricks involved in various crimes.
In some instances, corruption involving the activities of prison officials in their relationship with prisoners is a major problem. Prison officials may engage in trading illegal substances with the inmate; receive bribes from privileged or rich inmates to allow them have access to heterosexual relationships or other activities outside the prison, and even steal from inmates’ ration causing shortage of food for the prisoners.
 Goffman A, (1961): Asylums, Garden City. New York. Anchor Books.
 Silverman, C.E (1980): Criminal Violence, Criminal Justice. New York: Vintage books.