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  This module is a resource for lecturers  

 

Introduction

 

This Module introduces students to the concept of prison reform. The Module begins by providing a short overview of the main purposes of punishment and aims of imprisonment, before considering a brief history of prison reform, highlighting prominent figures and organizations that have advocated for better standards in prison. The focus of the Module then shifts to contemporary trends and key issues, including rising prison populations and the problem of overcrowding, as well as the challenges faced by individuals who live and work in prison. These issues are then considered in the light of the development of relevant international standards and norms, primarily with regards to the key areas of prison life that are addressed by the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Nelson Mandela Rules) which were adopted by the General Assembly in 2015. In addition, the Module considers the importance of addressing the specific needs of women in prison, in accordance with the Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-custodial Measures for Women Offenders (the Bangkok Rules) which were adopted by the General Assembly in 2010. The Module then assesses how prisons can operate humanely, and consider examples of rehabilitative approaches that reflect a commitment to human rights standards. Finally, this Module situates prison reform within the wider criminal justice system and considers the importance of limiting the use of imprisonment by briefly exploring the role of non-custodial sanctions.

This Module is divided into three topics:

  • Topic One - Introducing the aims of punishment, imprisonment and the concept of prison reform - provides students with a brief overview of the general purposes and aims of imprisonment, before considering the historical development and the significance of the prison reform movement.
  • Topic Two - Current trends, key challenges and human rights - critically assesses key issues associated with rising prison populations, focusing on the significant problem of prison overcrowding worldwide, as well as considering the challenge of living and working in prison. This topic also considers the development of relevant international standards and norms, particularly the Nelson Mandela Rules (2015) that reflect a commitment to improving global prison conditions, strengthening prison management and adhering to prisoners' rights.
  • Topic Three - Towards humane prisons and due consideration of non-custodial sanctions - identifies ways in which prisons can operate humanely, focusing on approaches and regimes that aim, through individualized sentencing, normalized regimes and constructive activities, to incorporate international human rights. It will also illuminate key arguments and strategies to limit the use of imprisonment by considering briefly alternative perspectives and non-custodial measures.
 

Learning outcomes

 
  • Develop an understanding of the main purposes of criminal punishment and the aims of imprisonment.
  • Demonstrate critical understanding of the history of prison reform and identify key figures and organizations that have advocated prison reform.
  • Critically assess key issues associated with rising prison populations, focusing on the problem of overcrowding as well as the challenge of living and working in prison.
  • Demonstrate critical understanding of key international standard and norms related to the treatment of prisoners, primarily the Nelson Mandela Rules (2015).
  • Develop an informed opinion on the various ways in which prisons can operate humanely, in line with international human rights standards, identifying good practice across different jurisdictions.
  • Consider alternative approaches to imprisonment, including the role of non-custodial measures as a key component to reduce the scope of imprisonment.
 
Next: Key issues
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