Technical assistance

In the area of criminal justice, UNODC has focused its technical assistance activities on crime prevention and several key issues, such as promoting the humane treatment of prisoners, improving prison conditions, victim support with a particular focus on vulnerable groups, criminal justice reforms in the context of post-conflict/peace building issues. In an effort to support both Government policy formulation and project design implementation, several manuals, tools and handbooks are also under development in the broad area of penal reform. In this regard, CJRU places an emphasis on interagency cooperation with other UN agencies providing technical assistance.

Areas covered

1. Overall Criminal Justice Reform Strategies:

The Justice Section assists developing countries, countries emerging from conflict, and countries with economies in transition in building the capacity of their criminal justice systems. A detailed criminal justice assessment tool is being prepared for this purpose.

2. Prison Reform and Alternatives to Imprisonment:

Key challenges

In most countries of the world detention and imprisonment are the main measures and sanctions used against individuals who are suspected of having breached criminal law or those who are convicted of such breaches. The overuse of prisons leads to a series of mutually reinforcing challenges in responding appropriately to the social reintegration needs of offenders, while violating the rights of those who are innocent.

Some key areas of concern include: prison overcrowding, poor prison conditions, poor health services; lack of social reintegration programmes; lack of information systems and strategic planning, lack of inter-institutional communication, lack of inspection and monitoring mechanisms; lack of support of and information for civil society; lack of economic and human resources; and the increase number of prisoners with special needs which requirements are rarely met in prisons.

UNODC has the mandate to assist countries in building and reforming their prison systems, and in implementing non-custodial sanctions and measures in compliance with  human rights principles and UN standards and norms in crime prevention and criminal justice.

There is a range of services which can be provided by UNODC depending on identified needs. This includes:

  • Collection and analysis of data and technical assistance needs assessments
  • Legislative assistance and legal advisory services to incorporate UN standards and norms into national legislation
  • Support to strategic planning to the public sector
  • Institutional and Capacity Building
  • Support to improve the quality of the prison regime
  • Information, advocacy and awareness raising

UNODC has developed a range of tools and handbooks for policymakers, professionals and providers of technical assistance related to various aspects of prison reform. Read more...

3. Justice for Children:

Reform of justice systems in accordance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the UN Standards and Norms in Juvenile Justice and the new UN Guidelines on Justice for Child Victims and Witnesses of Crime.

4. Victims Assistance and Support:

Provision of support to ensure a victim oriented approach to the provision of justice. Current activities include the provision of grants to NGOs working on victim support issues. Training materials for law enforcement officials in the area of violence against women have been developed.

5. Violence against women:

The Justice Section designs and supports projects in the area of preventing and responding to violence against women. The projects in this area support "one-stop" centres for women and children victims of violence, which provide legal services, counselling, medical attention, support, resource centre and overnight shelters. The projects also offer rehabilitation services (counselling, support groups) for male perpetrators as well as potential perpetrators with the aim of breaking the cycle of violence. Capacity building programs with government and civil society support to survivors and victims of gender-based violence have also been conducted.

6. Police oversight:


The Section provides technical assistance in reforming national police services to include an oversight mechanism which protects the integrity and effectiveness of the police performance and holds members of the police services accountable for their acts and omissions, while respecting human rights as well as other relevant international standards and norms. The Section also develops tools for that purpose.