Deprivation of Freedom


Not with standing the fact that the unjustified deprivation of freedom itself is a reprehensible practice, it is often fraught with a myriad of abhorrent ethical dilemmas. The overarching aim of this paper is to analyze the pith and core of the deprivation of freedom as well as to assess its ethical dimensions. To this end, it dissects this notion from different angles and perspectives. Moreover, this paper delves into the particularities of prison healthcare, with the emphasis being put on the accessibility of such healthcare and the autonomy of the detainees to choose services. As a next step, it illuminates ethical issues posed by the torture, forced disappearances, and extrajudicial execution of those deprived of freedom. It determines how the deliberate severance of family links by the law enforcement agencies and other entities involved affects the psychological well-being of the detainees. What is more, last but not least, this paper sets forth some ethical issues inherent in the detention of women and children. It should be mentioned that terms “freedom” and “liberty” are used interchangeably for the purposes of this research. The bottom line is that the deprivation of freedom is bursting with unfavorable ethical implications.


The international community remains divided upon the issue of what does and what does not constitute a deprivation of freedom. Judging by the highest standards, everything hinges on the definition employed by a particular individual. It is evident that different cultures have different definitions of the deprivation of freedom, depending on the context and purposes of its use. A commonly used layman’s explanation for the restriction of liberty would foreground the prevention of a particular person from doing what he or she intends to do. Oftentimes, a protracted deprivation of freedom might lead to the persons concerned being debarred from employment in certain spheres, which constitutes another restriction of liberty in itself (Colvin, Hopkins, & Cooper, 2009). In a broader context, manifestations of the deprivation of freedom run the gamut from precluding a person from entering or leaving a defined space, coercing them into doing what they do not want to do, and curtailing their rights to make decisions forbidding them to engage in certain activities. It should also be mentioned that not only the authorities but also separate individuals could deprive a person of freedom (Colvin et al., 2009).

Apparently, there is a multitude of other narrower definitions of the term, but they are usually used for special purposes only. According to Hull (2013), this type of definition is of critical importance when the task is to count the exact number of cases of freedom deprivation that meet certain criteria. Thus, a narrow definition of the term may focus on any of the elements explained hereinabove. In light of the fact that attitudes of authorities towards the deprivation of freedom change in course of time, carefully wrought legal definitions of this term may also be tailored to the newly arisen needs. Bearing in mind that the onslaught of the cutting-edge technologies wrought a change in legal parlance, definition of the term in numerous jurisdictions has been couched in scientific jargon (Liebling & Maruna, 2005). Examples abound, with the introduction of electronic means of restraining liberty being one of them. Notwithstanding such a wide variety of explanations of freedom deprivation, there is no generally accepted definition of this highly critical term. Concerning the difference between the terms “deprivation of freedom” and “restriction of liberty,” it does not have anything to do with nature or substance of the matter, but rather with its degree or intensity (Emmerson, Ashworth, & Macdonald, 2012). One way or the other, there is a plethora of ethical questions surrounding the issue of freedom deprivation, with some of them being explained below.

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One of the most delicate ethical dimensions surrounding the issue of freedom deprivation is the quality of healthcare in penitentiaries. In many countries throughout the world, this sector of healthcare has been going through certain changes aimed at ensuring that those deprived of freedom could enjoy standard medical aid. This initiative deserves to be lauded, but it does not take into account the enormity of prison realities. Ignoring distinctions between results of inmates and regular hospital patients in the prison medical staff being exposed to labyrinthine ethical dilemmas. Conventional wisdom has it that it is practically impossible to provide prisoners with healthcare services that are equipollent to those enjoyed by people at large. There is nothing unusual about it, because physical and mental health problems are not a rarity in penitentiary facilities, while the budget of prison infirmaries often leaves much to be desired (Liebling & Maruna, 2005). Similarly, prison doctors find it hard to explain the raison d'?tre behind their prescribing expensive methods of cure to inmates in state’s custody. Furthermore, the range of available treatment modes is limited due to the inability of prison medical staff to administer or monitor a particular treatment under the existing circumstances. Rendering first aid to the inmates, prison doctors often encounter situations when patients should be delegated to the specialist in a particular sphere of medicine, but the penitentiary does not have the wherewithal to send them for treatment beyond its boundaries.

Autonomy of the prison patients to choose treatment is yet another ethical issue associated with the quality of healthcare in penitentiary facilities. National healthcare systems in a number of countries enable regular patients to control their doctors, but inmates are bereft of such a freedom (Amos, 2006). The choice of a doctor is of key importance for those with psychological disorders or disruptions. In theory, there are ample grounds to suggest that those deprived of freedom should be entitled to consult at least one more specialist about their diagnosis. In practice, even prisoners of conscience convicted to psychiatric confinement rarely enjoy this privilege (Wilson & Forrester, 2002). Trying to explicate the divorce between theory and praxis would be tantamount to belaboring the obvious. Therefore, those in charge of penitentiary systems guide themselves by financial, rather than ethical, considerations. There are plenty of other problems inherent in the autonomy of those deprived of freedom to choose treatment. Despite the fact that it behooves doctors to respect a patient’s conscious rejection of medical aid, there is a paucity of research into the autonomy of inmates to decide whether or not to assent to treatment. By the same token, it is incumbent on everybody involved to respect the decision of a legally capable adult inmate to balk at taking a medicine, even if this could lead to the lethal outcome (Amos, 2006). The bottom line is that doctors should not bring pressure to bear on prison inmates in a bid to wring consent to treatment from them, because this compromises their autonomy. At the same time, a clutch of specialists abominates the very idea of doctors condoning this behavior, arguing that conniving at the death of inmates is unethical in itself (Wilson & Forrester, 2002).

Forced disappearance of people under arrest and extrajudicial executions constitute another nettlesome ethical issue surrounding the deprivation of freedom. This problem usually occurs in a different context than that explained in the previous paragraphs. Extrajudicial execution is a proper appanage of almost all third world countries racked by the internal conflicts. In a bid to forestall these two negative phenomena, it is imperative that the identities of those deprived of freedom should be ascertained and their cases kept under continuous monitoring (Colvin et al., 2009). To this end, a battery of measures, including tracking of the missing detainee’s whereabouts, must be taken. Once the whereabouts has been established, another problem crops up. Indeed, gaining entr?e into the place of detention often poses a formidable challenge both to the relatives of those deprived of freedom and special-purpose international organizations that investigate such cases, like the International Committee of the Red Cross. By and large, the problem of visiting an inmate is replete with ethical considerations not only in case of the conflict-ridden countries, but also in case of states that enjoy the trappings of a full-blooded democracy.

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Efforts on the part of the officialdom to militate against the restoration of contacts between detainees and their families constitute another ethical issue associated with the deprivation of freedom. It is obligatory for each state to ensure that decent conditions of detention are maintained (Liebling & Maruna, 2005). With the absence of family contacts being inimical to the psychological well-being of detainees, the restoration of these contacts is of immense importance. Considering that detainees are usually kept on a jejune diet in jail, they regard comestibles and other vital material support provided by the family members as commensurate to the deliverance from captivity. It should be mentioned that family links might be damaged both by unrest at the time of conflict and law enforcement agencies at the time of peace. In fact, relatives are the linchpin of a prisoner’s well-being, so that the deliberate severance of ties between a detainee and their family members entails the whole panoply of negative consequences (Watterson & Chesney-Lind, 1996). As it is mentioned in the previous paragraph, the decision whether or not to allow those deprived of freedom to receive family visits is fraught with ethical dilemmas.

To the consternation of family members, those deprived of freedom are often tortured into making false confessions on a certain stage of their detention. It goes without speaking that this issue gives rise to a handful of ethical considerations. Remand prisoners held in crammed police cells constitute the most vulnerable category of detainees in this regard, as they are subjected to the acts of torture and sadism during the interrogation process more often than others. Torture and other types of maltreatment have their roots in a disorganized prison system (Liebling & Maruna, 2005). Time and again, acts of torture have been registered in countries that stay as beacons of democracy towards the world. Atrocious crimes committed by the Americans in respect of those imprisoned at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp clearly demonstrate this point. However, the heinousness of these crimes is dwarfed by the hideous ingeniousness of those persons who are responsible for the extensive use of tortures in respect of prisoners of war in the conflict-ridden countries, for example. It is unbearable for any sane person to see their loved ones being cruelly tortured. All in all, torturing of those deprived of freedom is one of the most gruesome practices from the perspective of ethics.

Last but certainly not least, the issue of special treatment of women and children in the penitentiary facilities figures high in the moral agenda. Although women are less prone to criminal activities, they end up in jail very often. Similarly, women are less likely to be taken into captivity during an internal conflict (Watterson & Chesney-Lind, 1996). In spite of all this, the conditions of their detention are worse than those granted to other detainees (Watterson & Chesney-Lind, 1996). It is crucial that women should be provided with additional protection with regard to their childbearing role, inter alia. What is more important, considering that the prison staff are predominantly males, women deprived of their freedom may be exposed to various forms of harassment by guards. Hence, it is essential that a decent custodial environment should be ensured.


In conclusion, it would be wise to reiterate that the deprivation of freedom is fraught with numerous ethical implications, apart from being inimical to the well-being of detainees itself. Although restriction of liberty does not necessarily imply the imprisonment of a person, its other forms are not as maleficent to the physical and mental health of a detainee.