Abu Dhabi plans revolutionary new jail with no guards

Prison authorities in Abu Dhabi are planning a revolutionary new jail in which inmates could serve their whole sentences without ever seeing a prison guard.

Inside the women's Al Wathba prison in Abu Dhabi. Courtesy photo
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ABU DHABI // Prison authorities in Abu Dhabi are planning a revolutionary new jail in which inmates could serve their whole sentences without ever seeing a prison guard.

Officials say the purpose of prison should be rehabilitation rather than punishment, that they believe in a restorative and humane correctional system in which inmates are not simply prisoners, and that the new jail will revolutionise the relationship between inmates and guards.

Col Mohammed Al Zaabi, manager of Abu Dhabi’s punishment and corrections department, said the new jail would be a progressive, secure correctional facility in which prisoners would not encounter armed guards, but would deal primarily with social workers.

“We have found that prisoners see guards as rivals. Even when they are released and we try to contact them for follow-up or offer our services, they are immediately on guard,” he said.

“They don’t want the police contacting them and so we will eliminate any contact between the guards and prisoners,” Col Al Zaabi said.

Inmates will instead communicate and be seen by social workers, trainers, psychologists, counsellors and medical staff.

“They will be in the forefront and be dealing with the inmates on a daily basis, from the moment they enter prison until they leave. A prisoner might come in and leave the facility without ever seeing a prison guard,” he said.

A highly trained staff of more than 600 will be available around the clock, and will conduct daily sessions with prisoners.

“Social workers can absorb a prisoner’s anger or frustrations and are the most qualified people in our mission to rehabilitate,” Col Al Zaabi said. “Along with psychologists they are the most suited to pinpoint underlying problems and help resolve them.

“Prisoners are human beings and what people do not realise is the fear and anxiety they feel when they first enter a correctional facility. Seeing all the police and prison guards only increases this fear and anxiety.

“This makes it more difficult for us to reach out to them and include them in our rehabilitative programmes. Social workers will understand all these frustrations and work with them. ”

Security guards will be available “behind the scenes” and asked to intervene only when necessary.

“The social workers have been trained on how to spot and deal with aggressive behaviour,” Col Al Zaabi said. “Even though you can’t see them, police guards are very close and will immediately intervene if they sense danger.”

The new prison will be the largest in the emirate, with a capacity of 5,500 inmates.

“We wanted to have one central prison for the emirate of Abu Dhabi rather than several correctional facilities,” he said.

There are five correctional and rehabilitation facilities in the emirate: Al Ain, Al Wathba, Al Mafraq Juvenile facility, Al Razeen and a new one for temporary confinement.

“Having all the inmates and services under one roof is cost effective and gives us the opportunity to offer better services to inmates. All our resources will be in one building for everyone to benefit. The project is now in its final stages and we can only hope that it will be fully functional in the near future.”