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Make 2016 the International Year of Prison Reform

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Prisons are a disaster in many parts of the world. In the USA and parts of Europe, punitive sentencing places often intolerable burdens on the custodial system and those who work in it; in Africa, failures to meet basic needs mean detention can be a death sentence for the sick and weak; in Latin America many so called self- governing prisons are run on principles of extortion and violence while in Asia brutality is often enshrined in extremely harsh regimes. ...

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Jailed for Watching Daytime TV: the Need for Prison Reform in Africa

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In a recent report on over incarceration and overcrowding, the UN Commissioner for Human Rights has argued that that custodial sentences should be imposed as measures of last resort and applied proportionately to meet a pressing societal need.   A recent visit to East Africa illustrated that much more needs to be done if that is to be achieved in the region.

One 22 year old Tanzanian explained that he had been sentenced for watching television during the day- his offence ...

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How to Improve Prison Conditions: A Framework for Reform

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Prison conditions in much of the world are nothing short of a humanitarian disaster. Take Brazil where the world’s attention is currently focussed. More than half a million prisoners are crammed into a system designed for 350,000, about two fifths of whom are awaiting trial. Many of the institutions designed to uphold the rule of law are life –threatening. While the extent of violence, and risks of riots and fires may be higher than in most countries, Brazil’s jails are ...

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Counting the cost of imprisonment

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During an event to mark Penal Reform International’s 25th anniversary, Vicky Pryce, former Government senior economist and former prisoner shared her analysis of the costs of imprisonment. Her blend of experience t made for a compelling account. She argued that the amount of money the state spends on imprisonment is too much and could produce much better outcomes for offenders, their families and communities if it were used in other ways.

There are dangers in saying spend less on prison. Such ...

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Public Private Partnerships: An Opportunity or Threat to Prison Reform ?

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The role of the private sector in the management of prisons is a controversial topic. While experience has largely been limited to high and medium income countries, in recent years a number of poorer nations have shown interest in the potential benefits of public private partnerships (PPP’s) in the prison field. Inadequate prison infrastructure and limited availability of funds to improve it can make the involvement of the private sector attractive. But is it a sensible road to go down?

The ...

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Economical with the Truth about Prisons

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The problems facing the world’s ten million prisoners seldom receive much serious or sustained attention in the media so it is all the more disappointing that the usually sensible Economist should have published a somewhat superficial article on the subject last week. Its overall thesis – that prisoners enjoy greater rights in poor countries than rich – is highly questionable, ignoring the stark reality that in most of the world, prisons are little short of a humanitarian disaster. Several ...

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Educating Young Offenders is a Job for the Ministry of Education

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One of the surprise announcements in the recent speech by UK Justice minister Chris Grayling was a review of the secure facilities for juvenile offenders and a promise to make education more central to the work that they do. He expressed concern at both the costs – five times the fees at a private school -and poor outcomes of the current system. Encouragingly in developing his policy he wants to listen to people in the education world not just the ...

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Has the Tide Turned on Mass Imprisonment in the USA?

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While prison reform has hardly figured in the US Presidential campaign, there are signs that America’s love affair with incarceration may be coming to an end.  Hard pressed states can no longer afford the luxury of imprisonment on a scale that dwarfs European rates.  At its peak in 2008, despite spending 11.5% of its budget on prisons,  California still had inmates living on  three level bunks in prison gyms or other forms of “non traditional housing”. Federal and Supreme Court ...

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Need for Pause in UK Justice Reforms

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British Prime Minister David Cameron unveiled a new “tough but intelligent” criminal justice policy this week in a major speech delivered after a visit to Wormwood Scrubs prison in West London. Having replaced a  socially liberal Justice Minister with more of a hardliner last month,   Cameron was expected to usher in a harsher set of policies , partly to satisfy the more punitive members of his own Conservative party and also to seek to restore some credibility with the ...

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Alternatives to Prison in East Africa -Tackling the Punitive Approach

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A few miles south west of Kampala, past the turn off to Buddo, lies a small wooded area a bit bigger than a football pitch.  The field is surrounded by a trench, mostly about ten metres deep but with larger holes in places. The ground is well tended and a couple of small fires burn, one next to a tree another down in the ditch, where a young man, clasping a bottle sways drunkenly about , surrounded by  spears  and ...

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