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Editorial - "I was in prison, you set me free"

13 November 2012 08:59 pm - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


The virtual war at the Welikada jail on Friday and the unanswered questions as to who did what and why need to focus attention on related issues that led to such mayhem.

The Welikada jail has more than 3,500 prisoners -- heavily in excess of the space available, and overloading has caused major problems.

The Prison Reforms Ministry is working out plans to move hundreds of drug addicts out of the Welikada jail where they are often drawn into deeper addiction because the jail is known to be one of the main centres for the smuggling of heroin and other drugs. The drug addicts are to be moved out to correctional centres where compassionate and enlightened counsellors will hopefully help them to be delivered from the addiction so that the rehabilitated young people could go out and play a productive and positive role in society.

Another significant plan to reduce overcrowding of the Welikada jail and address related social issues has been launched by the crusading priest Rev.Fr. Hillary Peiris, chaplain of the Welikada prison. He has set up a prisoner relief fund at the Archbishop’s House to help those who are unable to pay their fines or compensation. There are quite a number of prisoners who have been ordered to serve further terms of rigorous imprisonment in default of the payment of fine or compensation. If these fines could be paid, these prisoners could go back home, possibly earn a living, and pull their families out of dire poverty. Till this happens their families need help to have three square meals a day and to meet basic health and educational needs especially of innocent children. Since this prisoner welfare mission has to be sustained for months or years, the priest is seeking assistance from well-wishers or the rich and powerful elite who could help free minor offenders and restore the human dignity of their families instead of busting up tens of thousands of rupees on non-essential luxuries and extravagant festivities especially during the oncoming Christmas season. He quotes the words of the Lord Jesus, “I was in prison and you visited or helped me…. When did we see you in prison and visit you? Truly, truly I say to you whatever you did to the least of my brothers, you did it to me.”

Besides these prison reform or relief measures, Sri Lanka also needs a change of attitude in the area of offences and justice. As we saw in South Africa, what transformed the country after the peaceful revolution of Nelson Mandela was the spirit of restorative justice instead of retributory justice. The vision and the goal are to bring the offenders to repentance, rehabilitate them and send them back to play a normal positive role in society. As said in all religions, even the vilest offenders, if they are treated with compassion could be transformed to play a vital role in building a better society, instead of languishing in disgrace and degradation.

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