According to a report published by BBC Urdu on Sunday, Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi – the prime suspect and alleged mastermind in the Mumbai attacks of 2008 – is living a life of comfort while being held in detention at Adiala Jail.
The man is in jail. He is a suspect, yet to be convicted of a crime. The fundamental problem with an authoritarian society, as Bob Altemeyer highlighted, is not authoritarian leaders. It is not even authoritarian social structures and institutions. Rather, it is the authoritarian follower. These are the individuals who defer to authority and who instigate in such a way that, to please followers, authoritarian leaders push the boundaries of abuse.
The idea that it is “outrageous” for a criminal suspect to live a “comfortable life” in jail betrays the mindset of those who assert it. If he is has not been found guilty, first and foremost, he should be living just as comfortably as any other innocent person. This isn’t a radical idea: this is the very premise of presumed innocence. For him to be living in any other way, with any other burden, would be a form of punishment, it would be a punitive action taken upon a person yet to be found guilt of any crime.
Further, suppose he is guilty: so what? His comfort or discomfort in prison changes nothing. Whatever crime was committed cannot be undone. By making him uncomfortable no damages are restored. No reparations are made. At best some ephemeral feeling of “justice” is accomplished, that is, some segment of society feels good because this man feels bad. And that says more about those individuals, more about that segment of society, than it does about the condemned criminal.
What really makes it ridiculous, though, is the idea that someone can live comfortably in jail. It’s the modern myth of the happy house slave. This is often repeated in discussions with Americans on European criminal justice. Nobody in jail is comfortable. Not a one. They aren’t comfortable even if they get visits, or television, or a PlayStation, or drugs, or conjugal visits. The very confinement itself is uncomfortable. Freedom or liberty, arguably the most important element of life, is denied them.
What this really shows is how out of touch people are with the reality of what jails and prisons are.