N Touch
Monday 9 December 2019
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Editorial

Iron cages

THE GREAT philosopher Max Weber once postulated a dismal view of modern society, arguing the individual would become trapped and disenchanted by overly tight systems of control – left to the mercy of cold clinical rationality and dominated by greedy oligarchs. This idea of the “iron cage” was a kind of metaphor, a springboard to get us to examine life and society. When it comes to Trinidad and Tobago it seems Weber was not far off.

We join the national community in registering our shock and disgust at the reported discovery of dozens of people locked in cages at a "rehabilitation" centre earlier this week. Some of the people found in the cages had drug-withdrawal symptoms such as pale skin, cold sweating, and constant fidgeting. It seems a pastor, of all people, was responsible for the facility and attempted to break addictions through this most unorthodox of means.

There is a time and place for tough love. And dealing with the cycles of drug addiction is undeniably difficult. But there is no justification for this. There is enough expertise and learning on these matters. There are international standards, capable of being policed and regulated. It cannot merely be said that the end justifies the means.

Who knew about the conditions inside? And who should have known? Did the relatives of those discovered at the facility suspect their loved ones would be handcuffed and imprisoned? Did they tacitly condone this treatment?

Could anyone be accused of failing to do enough due diligence? Such was the air of legitimacy surrounding this facility that one of its top officials even appeared before a parliamentary oversight committee.

Various arms of the State were also involved in funding and support. What were the conditions of such support? Did the State do enough to oversee this entity? What standards are in place to monitor how effectively state funds are being spent? And what agencies are monitoring “rehabilitation” centres? Absent an effective oversight system, this week’s discovery could be the tip of the iceberg.

Similar questions can be asked in relation to all homes and institutions, not just drug treatment centres, such as shelters catering to abandoned children, hospices for the homeless, facilities designed for the elderly, and institutions housing the mentally ill.

The State must ensure the victims removed this week receive proper care and counselling after their harrowing ordeal. With the police involved, the law must also be allowed to take its course.

Almost as disturbing as the discovery of people in cages was the disclosure, by police officials, that some officers of the law may have turned a blind eye to the situation. The police must expedite its own internal review of its handling of this case with a view to addressing what failings, if any, occurred.

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