Sympathy for the devil: human rights and empathetic construction of suffering

Scott, David (2012). Sympathy for the devil: human rights and empathetic construction of suffering. Criminal Justice Matters, 88(1) pp. 8–9.



In our punitive times, for many people advocating or defending prisoner human rights is considered perverse, unnatural, abnormal, or simply wrong. Such an approach is endorsed by those who believe that prisoners have no rights or that their duties or responsibilities transcend their rights. Presented to us as the natural way of thinking, it is assumed that all talk on prisons and human rights should operate within such self evident, or taken for granted notions. Legitimate claims for human rights, and empathy for human suffering, should apparently be restricted solely to the powerless victims of ‘crime’ in the community. In conjunction a zero sum mentality is naturalised, assuming that the promotion of the human rights of prisoners must necessarily involve the rejection of the rights of victims. Rights have to be deserved or earned, and consequently, as prisons are inhabited by bad or evil people who deserve to be punished, whatever rights infringements occur behind prison walls are not of public interest or political concern. Such punitive attitudes, however, must be challenged.

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