Behind the doors of Iranian prisons

Abbas Salahi, member of the Parliament’s Social Committee, pens a plea in the conservative daily Tehran-e Emrooz (Tehran Today) to reduce Iran’s burgeoning prison population (according to the International Center for Prison Studies [ICPS], Iran imprisons 284 persons per 100,000 population). While ICPS ranks Iran 39th, Salahi’s acknowledgment that Iran now ranks number four probably reflects political prisoners who might not otherwise be reflected in judiciary statistics.

Salahi laments that various initiatives over the years to reduce the prison population have not worked because of a high level of recidivism. While he decries that the Iranian public does not show more tolerance and often demands prison terms for infractions which Salahi implies merit only lesser penalties, he also opens the window into a society which all too often the Islamic Republic’s leadership pretends does not exist. Iranian television and radio often portray the Islamic Republic as a society of values and ethics, which stands in sharp contrast to the moral laxity and corruption of the West. However, the recidivism rate which Salahi suggests indicates that violent crime is an increasing problem inside Iran. His comment that prisoners learn new behaviors suggests that Iranian society faces not simply drug abuse and simple assaults, but also more violent crime involving firearms, explosives, or larger-scale smuggling, and that organized crime is increasing inside the Islamic Republic. At the same time, the refusal of the Iranian public to accept punishments less than prison sentences suggests that the regime faces frustration not only from those who seek a different political future, but also those who are more apolitical, who simply believe that the regime has failed to deliver the basic security which any public demands of its government. Iran may be boiling in ways that do not often cross diplomats’ radar screens.

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