UNODC's strategic response to global prison challenges

UNODC Strategy on Addressing the Global Prison Crisis. Photo: UNODC28 September 2015 - In many prisons around the world, safety, security and human rights challenges abound. Prisons are overcrowded and in dire condition, prison staff are often overstretched and overwhelmed by high-risk prisoners, and  violence and human rights violations are key concerns. Meanwhile basic nutrition, sanitation, and health care requirements can be lacking, with the spread of communicable diseases, including HIV and AIDS, among prisoners and into the wider community presenting specific challenges.

Covering this important area during a briefing this past week, UNODC Deputy Executive Director, Aldo Lale-Demoz, declared: "In its mission to contribute to the achievement of security and justice for all by making the world safer from crime, drugs and terrorism, and in the framework of Sustainable Development Goal 16 of 'promoting just, peaceful and inclusive societies', UNODC cannot avert its attention from the situation of prisons. Overcrowded, dysfunctional prisons are not able to fulfil their primary function of protecting society from crime and rehabilitating offenders. These prisons become breeding grounds for criminal contamination, in certain cases for radicalization to violent extremism. As the last link in the criminal justice chain, dysfunctional prisons ultimately undermine the impact of all the efforts and resources invested in law enforcement, in the investigation, prosecution and adjudication of criminal activities."

UNODC's mandates on crime prevention, criminal justice reform, health and drug use prevention place it at the crossroad of responses to the global prison crisis. The application on the ground of the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners or the 'Nelson Mandela Rules', soon before the General Assembly for final adoption, will enable countries to strengthen prison management and drastically improve the treatment of prisoners. Building new prison facilities and upgrading existing ones may be necessary but cannot be sufficient. Crime prevention, focusing in particular on youth at risk, criminal policy reform to reduce over-incarceration, promotion of alternatives to imprisonment, including evidence-based treatment alternatives for drug dependent offenders, strengthened access to legal aid, rehabilitation and social reintegration programmes for prisoners, all of these interventions form the core of UNODC's strategy to respond to global prison challenges and need to be combined towards a sustainable response to the current prison situation.

Further information:

UNODC Strategy on Addressing the Global Prison Crisis

UNODC's work on prison reform and alternatives to imprisonment