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Jordan Table of Contents


Penal System

The penal system, a responsibility of the Ministry of Interior, was administered by the Prisons Department of the Public Security Directorate. The system was composed of roughly twenty-five prisons and jails. All except Amman Central Prison--the system's major institution--were under the management of regional police chiefs and were sometimes referred to as police jails. In addition to the Amman facility, area prisons were located at Irbid and at Al Jafr, east of Maan in the south-central desert region. The smaller jails were located at or near regional and local police offices. Generally, convicted offenders with more than one year to serve were transferred to the central prison in Amman, those with terms of three months to one year were sent to regional prisons, and those sentenced to three months or less were kept in local jails. Some exceptions were made to this pattern in the case of Palestinian activists or other security prisoners who had been detained for long periods of time in the Al Jafr facility, largely because of its remoteness.

Penal institutions were used to detain persons awaiting trial as well as prisoners serving sentences. Convicted offenders were usually housed separately from those yet to be tried. Major prisons had separate sections for women prisoners, as did a few of the police jails in the larger communities. A juvenile detention center in Amman housed young offenders who had been convicted of criminal offenses. When juveniles reached the age of nineteen, if they had further time to serve, they were transferred to one of the larger prisons for the remainder of their sentences.

All institutions operated in accordance with the provisions of the Prison Law of 1953, as amended. This law provided for decent treatment of prisoners and included comprehensive regulations governing the facilities, care, and administration of the prison system. Jordan was one of the first Arab countries to recognize the theory of rehabilitation, rather than retribution, as the basis for punishment of lawbreakers. This concept emphasized that crime was caused by human weakness resulting from poor social conditions rather than by willfulness and immorality. As such, the approach was in many ways alien to the traditional Muslim custom of personal revenge by the family of the victim, which demanded that the culprit pay for his crime. Although Jordan's penal system was designed to provide punishments suited to bring about the rehabilitation of the wrongdoers, in practice these efforts were hampered by the lack of facilities and professionally trained staff. Some effort was made to provide literacy and limited industrial training classes to prisoners in Amman Central Prison, but few modern techniques of rehabilitation were found in other penal institutions.

According to the annual human rights reports of the United States Department of State, prison conditions were harsh but not intentionally degrading. There appeared to be no discrimination according to religion or social class in treatment of prisoners. Crowded conditions in some prisons were relieved by a royal amnesty in 1985 that resulted in the release of more than 1,000 inmates. In 1986, a new central prison, Juwaidah, was opened in Amman. It replaced the obsolete and cramped Al Mahatta prison, which was scheduled to be closed.

In its 1988 report, Amnesty International cited a number of cases of apparent mistreatment in prisons, notably at Al Mahatta and at the Az Zarqa military prison. The report also questioned the authorities' motives in forcing four students and a writer convicted in the martial law court of membership in illegal leftist organizations to serve their sentences under the harsh conditions found at Al Jafr.

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The general survey of Jordan by Arthur R. Day, East Bank/West Bank: Jordan and the Prospects for Peace, includes a chapter appraising the Jordanian military establishment, as well as a number of observations relative to Jordan's internal security. The analysis by Anthony H. Cordesman, Jordanian Arms and the Middle East Balance, published in 1983, together with a supplement published in 1985, provides assessments of the military and geostrategic situation of Jordan. The analyses also present arguments for equipping Jordanian forces with advanced weapons to enable the country to resist military pressure from neighboring powers. The problems Jordan encountered with the United States in meeting its desire for these new weapons, especially in the area of air defense, are also reviewed in detail. The Hashemite Arab Army, 1908-1979, by S.A. El-Edroos, a Pakistani brigadier who served as adviser to the Jordan Arab Army, is a thorough study of military operations and battles through the October 1973 War. John Bagot Glubb's autobiography, A Soldier with the Arabs, provides detail on the evolution of the Arab Legion and the fighting in 1948. Troubles on the East Bank: Challenges to the Domestic Stability of Jordan by Robert B. Satloff reviews existing and potential internal security problems, with emphasis on the Muslim Brotherhood.

The discussion of military strengths, formations, and equipment in this chapter is based principally on estimates compiled in The Military Balance, 1988-89, by the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)

Data as of December 1989

Country Listing

Jordan Table of Contents