In 2020, the restrictions imposed as the result of the pandemic made us realize the importance of communicating with the outside world and how difficult it is to live in isolation, in a single, locked space with restricted mobility, seemingly close and at the same time far away from friends and loved ones. These changes have made the daily lives of people who spend certain periods of their lives in isolation from society, particularly in penitentiary institutions even more visible and understandable. With the most superficial reasoning, they are responsible for what they have done and are “deservedly” isolated. By delving into individual stories, people are often deprived of choices, under the influence of various socio-economic factors in their lives.
This blog focuses on so-called “dual vulnerability” groups, that are in particularly unequal conditions in a closed system because of written or unwritten rules and regulations. Despite we all bear the responsibility to respect the rights of each other, only part of our society agrees with non-judgment and equality of the rights of various representatives of minority groups. Thus, we can assume that discriminatory attitudes towards minority groups in society are even more pronounced in the penitentiary system. This makes isolation even more difficult and hard to deal with.To understand the challenges concerning minority groups, it is best to observe, study, and analyze their conditions and specific needs.
And yet, what will we find if we do so ?!Regarding ethnic minorities, we will see, the challenge concerns the language barrier and consequently the difficulty of communicating with other inmates or staff of the facilities. We discover that it is complicated and sometimes impossible to provide confidential information to a social worker, psychologist, and medical staff. For the same reason, access to information (television, press) and communication with the outside world, participation in educational, rehabilitation, cultural or informational events are less available.
Regarding religious minorities, it is obvious that representatives of the Orthodox religion are in a privileged position compared to other denominations, because in addition to the arranged chapels, during religious celebrations their nutritional needs are also taken into account. And, religious minorities do not always have the opportunity to organize and participate in religious rituals. Not to mention the lack of special nutritional needs and the lack of inventory needed to perform religious rituals, instead of the church or places of worship, they often have to worship in cells, causing dissatisfaction among cellmates.
At first glance, it is clear that the needs of people with disabilities will be challenging and complex, as the inaccessible environment, the housing conditions incompatible with their needs, and difficulties hindering the normal daily functioning are just as relevant in the penitentiary system as outside of it. Here, considering mental health, it turns out that even if the services of a psychiatrist and psychologist are available (responding to the needs); the intervention is mostly medical and lacks the practice of supportive rehabilitation services. And in case of the condition worsens, the risk of self-harm or suicide attempts increases.
It appeared that sexual minorities and individuals identified with this group are most vulnerable in terms of rights. Because of the high stigmatization of the group and the “rules” dictated by the subculture, they are under high risk to be under violent and degrading treatment. The risk of psychological, physical, and sometimes sexual violence is high. There are fewer opportunities for them to take part in prison life and limited services provided to them leave this group behind the rehabilitative process, questioning the implementations of the goals of the sentence. At one glance, the limited contact with other prisoners imposed for their safety increases their exclusion and promotes the influence of subculture. Plus, unlike other groups, the status gained in prison stays after release and becomes an insurmountable barrier for those who struggle with overcoming the barriers caused by stigma.In fact, foreign nationals represent distinct groups within facilities and are serving their sentence separate from the majority of inmates because of the language barrier and cultural differences. Lack of communication hinders the development of relationships, receiving services, and engagement in programs. Evident the emotional state of the newly arrived detainees, who in addition to the penitentiary stress experiencing the isolation caused by the language barrier. It is crucial for them to keep in touch with their families and friends, and for many of them, the main means of communication are the phone calls (if families are unable to arrive in Georgia to take short-term and long-term visits), the days of which are determined. In addition, it is essential to meet basic needs such as clothing, items of hygiene, and bedding.
With this observation, we understand that identified challenges may not be novel, but it is still relevant and requires an action to see them and respond accordingly. Moreover, today, living in isolation makes it even easier to imagine the feelings and daily lives of people who, besides being isolated from society, also experiencing the isolation caused by their social status.