Editorial

How will conjugal visits really work

Thursday, July 27, 2017

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The National Security Ministry moved yesterday to clarify its announcement that certain prisoners will be granted the right to conjugal visits.

We suggest that the ministry's clarification did not go far enough to cover some of the more tricky issues that will emanate from the new policy, and which, if not handled carefully, could cause more problems than it solves.

At the outset, we should make it clear that we support the idea of allowing conjugal visits on the basis that the ministry has outlined. The world is moving away from the outdated concept that prisoners should be locked away and deprived of all rights that normal human beings enjoy. The new focus is on preparing the prisoner to return to society and to function as a normal citizen.

We, therefore, agree with the ministry's position that conjugal visits be part of an incentive system for those who have met the criteria.

These include: the type of crime committed; the length of time left on the sentence; changed behaviour; deportment of the prisoner; and presence of a stable relationship between prisoner and partner.

We are also pleased that the plan is part of a wider set of reform programmes being undertaken in the penal institutions, including Chess in Prison, sports and WE-Transform.

There is a view that conjugal visits can assist in reducing forced sex among prisoners, something which is widespread the world over.

But while the criteria laid out by the ministry are sound, we believe that there is great need for additional clarification, beyond the mere satisfaction of the standards outlined.

• We wonder, for example, what happens if a female prisoner becomes pregnant after visits by a male partner. Will there be facilities for pre-natal and post-natal care? And what of the baby while the mother remains in prison? And who is to foot that bill?

• How will the policy of conjugal visits work if and when both partners, having met the stated criteria, are in prison? Who will be allowed to visit whom, and where?

• At what age will inmates become eligible for conjugal visits, given that the age of consent is 16 but adulthood is not recognised until age 18?

• In the context of the proposed repeal of the Buggery Act, will gay prisoners, specifically males, be allowed conjugal visits?

• Will medical facilities be in place to handle a potential increase in Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) and other sexually transmitted diseases contracted by a prisoner?

The issue may give rise to related questions that escape us at the moment, but which, we believe, readers might find troubling. The ministry and its planners might well have thought through such issues and we hope they will share them with us.

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