Abah, Asharq Al-Awsat- Saudi Arabia has begun to operate five new huge prisons, which a security official at the Interior Ministry said “are governed by a surveillance system around the hour through control rooms that are connected to cameras that monitor all the movements that occur inside the prisons.” This system replaces an older surveillance system.
The director general of Saudi security jails said that the new jails are located in five places in Riyadh, Jeddah, Al-Qasim, Al-Sharqiyah, and Asir and that four are already in operation. The fifth jail is due to open in Abha. Asharq Al-Awsat visited this newest jail in the company of a media delegation at the beginning of this week.
The security jails director dispelled the typical idea that the people have about the jails operated by his department by asserting that they never were “those frightening places as the people described them.”
The new jails were built at a cost of 1.75 billion riyals. They were built according to the European system and international specifications that took security and the inmates’ safety into account by appointing emergency exists and by installing an automatic system to isolate any ward that catches fire to confine the damage to the smallest possible area.
The Saudi Interior Ministry gave a media delegation the opportunity of visiting a jail in the Asir region. The security jails director said this was a gesture that reflects the degree of transparency that the Interior Ministry has. The jail that was visited was a specimen of the four other jails. The jails have helicopter landing pads to handle emergency cases. The five jails will be connected by an integrated electronic system to facilitate communication among them.
Every jail will have 1,500 cameras to monitor all movements within the wards and inside the interrogation rooms. The five jails have a total of 6,000 cameras. The security jails director affirmed that everything that take place inside the interrogation rooms “will be audio and video recorded.” Sophisticated equipment used in these security jails connect the interrogation rooms directly with the Interior Minister’s office so that he can follow the interrogations that occur with prisoners detained on security charges. One of the officers at the jail explained that all the rumors about torture being used during the interrogations are “untrue.”
He added: “Now with security cameras placed inside the interrogation rooms, we can observe everything that occurs inside those rooms by reviewing the recordings. All interrogations will be documented so that we can return to them if we need them.”
Six watchtowers defend each of the new prisons. The guardrooms at the top are protected by bulletproof glass, allowing the guards to deal with anyone who creates an incident. To ensure that the prisoners are unable to escape, the walls surrounding the new jails have been equipped with several security procedures. Underground cables will be able to monitor the exact location of any escape attempt and deal with the situation.
The new jails are equipped to maintain the prisoners’ general health. According to the persons in charge of the Asir jail, the ventilation system in all five new jails purify and filter the air and push new air into the prison at a rate of 11 times per minute, which is a higher rate than the international standard, with the aim of keeping a healthy air content inside the wards, especially larger ones, which can house up to five prisoners. All wards inside the new jails, both individual and multi-inmate rooms, are equipped with television sets to enable the inmates to watch the four Saudi channels, Channel 1, the English channel, the sports channel, and the news channel in addition to Al-Majd Channel and the Koran Channel. The prisoners can change channels through a small remote control device attached to their wristwatches.
The wards are equipped with toilets that allow surveillance of a prisoner’s movements but at the same time preserve his privacy when using the toilet. The wards have audio devices that are connected with the smaller control rooms that enable prison personnel to hear and respond to the prisoners’ requests, especially urgent ones. All wards are equipped with modern fire-fighting devices that ensure rapid intervention in urgent cases. They facilitate the safe evacuation of the inmates until the fire is put out and then return them to their cells.
The Interior Ministry took special care when building these new jails to provide a special route through which a new inmate would pass to be processed according to the type and seriousness of his case, to undergo medical tests, bathe, and be given a special uniform to wear while in jail. In the new prisons the inmates will be separated according to the seriousness of the offenses for which they were imprisoned. Special wards have been set aside for those who suffer from contagious diseases. Handicapped prisoners will be placed in special wards especially designed to meet their needs.
In every jail there is a fully equipped hospital where surgical operations, except for open heart surgery, can be performed. The director of the security jails said that 100 doctors have been assigned to the new prisons, 20 to each jail.
The new security prisons, which are equipped with a sophisticated surveillance system, employ specialists in security, Shariaa, and psychological and social affairs. They operate under the Counseling Committee, which undertakes to correct the ideas that extremist inmates embrace. The director of the security jails explained that the Counseling Committee seeks to “care for citizens who have swerved from the right path and also counsel foreign residents who are detained on security issues.”
Every new jail has a hall for prisoners who wish to further their studies. The director of the security jails said that nearly 200prisoners are now studying for their bachelor’s degrees, that a small group of them are preparing for their master’s degrees, and that at least one is working towards his PhD. He affirmed that the prisons’ administration provides facilities to those who wish to further their studies.
He pointed out that the new jails are equipped with all means of comfort for the detainees, explaining that “the highest command at the Interior Ministry has made all possible efforts to nurture the detainees’ thoughts and comfort in order to reabsorb them, reform them, and restore them as good members of society.”
The director of the security jails explained that Saudi Arabia has made great strides in caring for prisoners and nurturing their health and helping them to develop ideologically, socially, and financially.
The new jails are equipped with facilities for the detainees to contact their families through specific visits, including general family visits, and conjugal visits, something that might not be available in any other country. Special attention is paid to these visits in line with the character of each detainee. One of the prison officers who accompanied the media delegation said that a conjugal visit might last as long as six hours.
The director of the security jails said that the new prison buildings have means of entertainment including ping pong, billiards, football, and basketball and facilities for other sports. The new touch added to these new prisons also takes into account the detainees’ cultural needs with libraries containing useful books, where the detainees are allowed to read at any time they want, day and night.
Among the new programs that the highest command in the Interior Ministry took care to provide is a program called “family day” when the prisoner can spend an entire day with his family in a special location. This is for detainees who it is hoped can be reformed.
According to one of the prison officers who accompanied the media delegation, the new prisons have an arrangement for religious education courses that detainees may attend once special committees decide that they are ready for them. There are also counseling sessions, which continue to be run by specialists under the prisons administration’s supervision. On the interior minister’s instructions, every jail has a full team of counselors.
Each jail contains a fully equipped kitchen to prepare food for the prisoners.
The director of the security jails noted that whenever a detainee needs medical treatment that is not available at the prison itself, quick instructions will be given to transfer him to a hospital.