New jail system aims to reform accused in Saudi Arabia


“The move is not aimed at reducing the pressure in Saudi jails,” Al-Harithy said in comments published in an Arabic daily. “Our objective is much nobler and greater than that. We want to put in jail only those who deserve it.”

Justice Minister Abdullah Al-Asheikh also spoke about alternative punishments recently. “We have already distributed questionnaires among judges to elicit their opinions and proposals on alternative punishments. Many judges favor the idea saying it would contribute to reforming the accused,” the minister said.

There are 104 prisons and 12 reformatories across the Kingdom, the Arabic daily said, adding that about 32,000 of 44,600 inmates in Saudi jails are foreigners. Nearly 4,000 youngsters aged between 12 and 18 are living in reformatories. Fifteen committees have been set up to look after the families of prisoners. The prisons chief said the bylaw of the new system is being prepared carefully with the participation of different agencies in the light of the best practices in developed countries. The alternatives include releasing suspects on bail.

As punishment, suspects may be asked to do social services, such as cleaning mosques and schools or taking part in activities of charitable organizations or serving patients in addition to other activities that are beneficial to society.

Al-Harithy narrated the benefits of these alternative punishments. “Jail terms have become a burden for the prisoner as well as his family. We have seen some prisoners returning to jail after being released. This forced us to study alternatives to imprisonment in the light of the experiences of developed countries.”

Al-Harithy said about half of the prisoners in Britain spend their term outside prison. “Some countries have adopted very good alternative punishments. We have studied all these best practices to implement a better system,” he added.

Speaking about the negative effects of imprisonment, he said, “Many employers refuse to give jobs to released prisoners. Families and relatives look at them differently, and many will be hesitant to marry their girls to former prisoners. Alternative punishment will be a suitable solution to all these problems.” Al-Harithy said his department has been studying proposals about alternative punishments for the last seven years. The new move will have positive effects as it will spare a person from spending time with hardened criminals, learning their culture.

He said nobody would remain in jail after the completion of his term. “There are special panels to look at this matter and nobody will stay in prison more or less than his jail terms. A person can get release after spending a quarter of his term if he memorizes parts of the Qur’an or maintains good discipline.”


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