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Lets Have a Global Prison Reform Programme from the UN

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Next week the UN General Assembly will spend a day considering what can be done to strengthen the rule of law across the globe. The agenda will be self evidently high level, looking no doubt at matters such as how to combat impunity at an international level and the importance of transitional justice in post conflict countries.

Member states will probably be encouraged to improve access to justice for the poor, to ensure that courts operate independently of the government and ...

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Social Justice: Can courts do more than process and punish?

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What might have been a depressing morning observing the arraignment Court in Newark New Jersey was anything but. Yes there was a parade parade of poor, ill educated and often mentally ill black and latino defendants, sometimes appearing in person, sometimes via video link from the county jail. Yes the offences for which they were charged, were petty and sometimes as in the case of “wandering” – a kind of trespass – questionable.

In fact what could simply have been a ...

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Why Data is Essential for Prison Reform

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Earlier this week, Justice and Prisons took part in a roundtable hosted by the Open Society Institute in New York on the subject of data and criminal justice reform- and in particular how collecting statistical information can improve the quality of pre trial justice.

The meeting heard presentations about the development of indicators to measure justice in post conflict countries, audits of case-flow through justice processes in Zambia and Malawi and a planned survey of the extent of excessive pre trial ...

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Fair treatment of people in conflict with the law is both right and gets results

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One of the current trends in criminal justice thinking is what’s known as procedural justice.  One of its leading advocates American Professor Tom Tyler is in the UK this week to talk about the way the police and courts deal with people in reaching a decision about them may produce consequences at least as important as the nature of the decisions they reach. Even if the outcome is negative, people who feel they have been treated fairly in their dealings ...

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Return of The Titans: How will the UK’s biggest, cheapest prison fare?

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This week is due to see the opening of what will be the UK’s largest prison, the 1605 place Oakwood near Wolverhampton. Originally intended to be one of three so called Titan jails the capacity was scaled back from 2,500 after the last Government eventually bowed to widespread concerns about the desirability and safety of such large establishments.  But the medium security prison, when fully operational in the autumn will still fly in the face of evidence that smaller prisons ...

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Welcome to a Clean Version of Hell

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The judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in upholding the extradition of terrorist suspects from the UK to the USA contains damaging implications for the idea of international standards in the use and practice of imprisonment.  The Court’s finding that the likely detention conditions and length of sentences for the five alleged terrorists  would not amount to ill-treatment gives a seal of approval to an approach to imprisonment fundamentally at odds with human rights and civilised values.

The carefully ...

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International Women’s Day

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As the world marks International Women’s Day 2012, it is now over a year since the UN General Assembly   adopted new rules for the treatment of women prisoners and for non-custodial measures for women offenders.  The Bangkok Rules were drawn up in response to the recognition of the particularly deleterious impact of imprisonment on women and the children of imprisoned women, and the need for specific standards.

In some countries, women and girls are imprisoned for “moral crimes” such as ...

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Honduras fire should prompt international action on prisons

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If any good can come from the fire that claimed more than 300 lives in Honduras this week, the tragedy must serve as a wakeup call that in many parts of the world , prison systems  represent nothing less than a humanitarian disaster. In many prisons in low income countries, the ever present danger of fires is just one of the hazards that threaten the lives of inmates.  Bare cables hanging loosely out of crumbling walls are compounded by prisoners’ improvised ...

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It’s time to deal with women and juveniles outside prison

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A recently retired UK prison governor this week joined the growing chorus of voices calling for a radical reform of prisons for women. The levels of damage and distress he found among the women he imprisoned at Styal prison near Manchester were simply too high to cope with in a prison setting. The self –inflicted deaths of two teenage boys in UK prisons within a week has also called into question whether prisons are appropriate places for young people of either ...

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UN Prison Standards -New Rules or Better Compliance?

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The Gevangepoort (Prison Gate) in The Hague was used to detain the Count of Holland’s prisoners as far back as the 15th Century. Now a museum, up to 15 people were held in each of its dark and often cold cells, with serious and minor suspects mixed together sometimes for many months before a verdict was reached. Those who had money could pay for better conditions. In 1672 Cornelius de Witt accused of plotting to murder a prince spent two ...

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