UNODC unveils interactive criminal justice software

Criminal justice assessment toolkit 17 April 2008 - Effective, humane and fair criminal justice systems build public confidence and encourage respect for law and order. They also help offenders to reform and abandon crime. This is particularly important in many developing countries where citizens often lack access to justice. "Upgrading policing, court and prison systems to meet international standards is a complex and daunting task," says Mark Shaw, UNODC Inter-Regional Adviser, who spearheaded the creation of the Criminal Justice Assessment Toolkit. "This is where UNODC can bring hands-on knowledge."

A "flagship" product of UNODC, the Toolkit is a practical guide designed to help UN agencies, law enforcement and government officials engaged in criminal justice reform. It also enables experts to make comprehensive assessments of criminal justice systems. Launched last year, it is already a widely-used resource. Recently, UNODC received requests to train UN peacekeepers in the use of the Toolkit.

"Criminal justice systems differ from one country to another, they don't necessarily respond to anti-social behaviour in neat or predictable ways", says Shaw. Backed up by UN conventions, minimum standards and norms, the Toolkit can give valuable guidance on how to incorporate internationally accepted principles into programmes, he adds. 

Comprising 16 tools covering all aspects of the criminal justice system, the kit provides advice in such areas as crime investigation, police information and intelligence systems, ensuring an independent and impartial judiciary and alternatives to incarceration. Other areas include juvenile justice, the treatment of victims and witnesses and international cooperation.

With funding from the Government of Canada, UNODC has now developed an inter-active software version of the Toolkit. The software can be installed on a laptop, offering a convenient source of information for people on the move.  Assessors can now access the whole range of tools at their disposal, conduct detailed searches and sort data at the click of a button.

Beyond that, the kit allows assessors to "compare notes" faster.  They can input comments on their visits to prisons or courts, which can be "imported" or "exported" to other assessors who can insert their own appraisals. So, for instance, whereas one expert assesses the needs of prisoners with AIDS, another examines services to the mentally ill while another colleague interviews prison managers. "This is dynamic feedback and it gives a more complete picture of evolving situations. It can only help us design programmes better," says Shaw. 

UNODC will continue to innovate. New tools are in the works for crime prevention, forensics, border control and gender sensitivity.  

Full text of the toolkit.