The Ethical Treatment of Prisoners

3418 Words14 Pages
The ethical treatment of prisoners is a surprisingly contentious topic, considering how much is known about the conditions and contexts in which human beings function optimally, both physically and mentally. However, ethical discussions frequently have very little to do with what best allows human beings to thrive and function, but instead concern themselves with formulating rules and standards of acceptable behavior, usually out of the mistaken belief that these rules or standards represent some kind of objective, universal ethics. A problem arises when dealing with prisoners, because in many people's minds, the crime or offense of which a prisoner is accused warrants the denial of a certain subset of their rights, but there is not universal acceptance of which rights may be denied and to what extent, due to a disconnect between different modes of ethical thought. Believing in objective, universal ethical standards actually means that anything is justifiable; because these imagined objective standards do not actually exist, people are free to imagine them however they see fit. More utilitarian ethics rooted in conceptions of the social contract are far more useful for determining social policy, because they do not purport to represent objective ethical standards; rather, they acknowledge that ethics and morality are socially constructed, and as such they seek to rationally determine the best practices for achieving any particular goal. By examining two especially
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