Islamic Republic of Iran

UNODC-Judiciary Workshop Highlights Need for Alternatives to Imprisonment

Photo: UNODCPrison populations around the world are increasing, placing enormous financial burdens on governments and often leading to overcrowding in prisons, with its multiple harmful effects. In the meantime, there is growing recognition that imprisonment does not achieve some of its most important stated objectives and can be counterproductive in the rehabilitation and social reintegration of offenders. Instead, numerous international instruments recommend a rationalization in sentencing policy, including the wider use of alternatives to prison, aiming to reduce the number of people being isolated from society for long periods.

The use of alternatives to incarceration or non-custodial measures is a major part of the UNODC's integrated and multi-disciplinary approach to prison reform, which takes full account of the need to relate prison reform to broader criminal justice reform. It is also one of the areas of cooperation between the UNODC Country Office in Iran and the Iranian Judiciary on legal matters and the promotion of the rule of law. Moreover, it is also an area which witnessed significant developments at the national level in 2013, with the entry into force of the new Iranian Penal Code, which includes a chapter on alternatives to imprisonment (Chapter 9), in April and the issuance of important instructions by the Chief of the Judiciary for "criminal depopulation of prisons" in May.

Considering these recent developments, UNODC Iran and the Research Centre of the Iranian Judiciary decided to jointly organize a workshop to discuss the issue of overcrowding of prisons and the practical aspects of the alternatives to imprisonment. The workshop was held on 24 and 25 February 2014 in Tehran, with the participation of national experts from the Judiciary and by international experts from UNODC Headquarters and Kenya. The main objective of the event was to provide prosecutors and judges with the opportunity to discuss the recent developments on alternatives to imprisonment at the national and international levels, and to become more familiar with the relevant international norms and standards.

In the opening session, Mr. Homayoun Habibi, Head of the Research Centre of the Judiciary, emphasized the importance of such meetings where national authorities and international experts can share ideas and experiences. He pointed out that the Iranian penal code has some lacunas with regards to alternatives to imprisonment which require improvement.

The UNODC Representative in Iran, Mr. Leik Boonwaat, provided the participants with a brief overview of the issues of overcrowding in prisons and alternatives to incarceration, including the relevant international standards and norms and the development of UNODC's work in this field. He also expressed his hope that the remarks and exchanges by the participants during this event would contribute to the development of the Iranian judicial system as regards the use of alternatives to imprisonment.

The opening sessions was also addressed by the Criminal Justice Reform Expert of the UNODC Headquarters, Ms. Piera Barzano, who raised the importance of rehabilitation in reducing the impact of jail on the society and gave some examples of successful implementation of alternatives to imprisonment in other countries. Ms. Barzano also pointed out that there are several reasons that should encourage States to implement alternatives including, for example, the stigmatization and recidivism related to imprisonment, and the integration needs of offenders, while the lack of means (legislations, institutions, will, and budget) remains to be an obstacle. Moreover, a relevant case study was presented by Mr. Martin Otieno, Probation Officer from Kenya, who explained the application of the Community Service Order in his country, encouraging Iran to follow suit.

The main topics discussed during this two-day meeting included a review of the use of alternatives to imprisonment from the legal (Criminology) and Executive aspects; the role of Personality Surveys and Implementation Approaches for Special Categories; and the inter-relation of clauses within Chapter 9 of the Iranian Penal Code. UNODC Iran hopes that this event will constitute the first step towards more comprehensive and fruitful discussions and meetings on the important subject of alternatives to imprisonment.