Embedding the Mandela Rules where they will make the biggest difference

Abuja, 1st December 2022-“It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.” These words from Nelson Mandela remind us that the decisions taken on prisons affect each and every one of us. Rehabilitative prisons improve safety and security; they allow those leaving prisons to contribute to their communities; and they protect our humanity on both sides of the bars.

The Nelson Mandela Rules provide clear benchmarks for prison officials on safety, security and the humane treatment of prisoners. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) is the custodian of these rules, working to promote and support their adoption worldwide.

For the rules to work, they must be embraced at every level – from policy makers through to prison staff working on the ground. These correctional staff have some of the greatest impact on the application of the rules, as they work with prisoners on a day-to-day basis. But reaching all these essential people to ensure they understand and apply the rules is a challenge.

To make this a reality, UNODC has developed a self-paced e-learning course on the rules, often supplemented by in-person training.


Embedding the rules in Nigeria

The Nigerian Correctional Service is keen to embed the Nelson Mandela Rules in the custodial centres of the country – and in November 2022 UNODC worked with the service on a three-day event to help them do just that.

From 22to 24November, 20 correctional officers, including 15 officers from the Nigerian Correctional Service staff training college in Kaduna, participated in a ‘train the trainer’ course, organized by the UNODC country office in Nigeria. The event developed a pool of competent instructors who can support new correctional officers and colleagues as they complete the e-learning course.

Drawing participants from varying levels of Nigerian Correctional Service, the interactive event contributed to the institutionalization of the e-learning course into the training curriculum of the Nigerian Correctional Service.

The training included:

  • An introduction to the e-learning course and its seven self-paced modules.
  • Training in theoretical and practical aspects of prison security, safety, and the humane treatment of prisoners.
  • The opportunity to reflect on the Nelson Mandela Rules. Participants had a wealth of experience in the correctional service ranging from three to twenty years.
  • Access to the online portal to allow trainers to complete the course themselves, with guidance on how to approach each module effectively with the new recruits.
  • Refresher training on strategic and modern training methods.

To further support the institutionalization of the e-learning course, UNODC has equipped the training facility in Kaduna with 15 desktop computers and internet services. Huge thanks to the Federal Government of Germany for their financial support.

Training impact

After completing the course and being issued with their certificates, participants were keen to begin work training more correctional officers in the Nelson Mandela Rules.

“As an instructor and course coordinator responsible for preparing course content for new recruits, I have been highly impacted by this training. The course content and the modules of the e-learning course underpin that humane treatment of those in our custody should be at the centre of how we carry out our duties.”

“The knowledge gained will go a long way in improving how we engage with inmates at our custodial centres.”

“The availability of computers and internet facilities in our training institutions will go a long way in institutionalizing the Nelson Mandela Rules within the Nigerian Correctional Service.”

Get involved

The Nelson Mandela Rules are more relevant today than ever. Although crime rates are declining in many parts of the world, prison populations are increasing, with an estimated 11 million prisoners worldwide.

The UNODC e-learning course on the Nelson Mandela Rules is available free of charge. You too can become a champion of the Nelson Mandela Rules!

Our work on prison and penal reform aims to improve public safety through enhanced dignity and humane treatment of incarcerated people, in line with the UNODC Strategic vision for Nigeria 2030.