International Standards

In addition to the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, the administration of prisons is subject to a range of treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, as well as standard and norms, such as the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment, Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners, UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice, UN Rules for the Protection of Juveniles Deprived of their Liberty, Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials and Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials

These instruments make it clear that while prisoners lose their right to freedom of movement they keep their rights as human beings when they are in detention. They must not be treated in an inhuman or degrading way. International standards forbid all forms of torture. They also make it clear that the penitentiary system for convicted offenders “shall comprise treatment of prisoners the essential aim of which shall be their reformation and social rehabilitation” (ICCPR). While these standards provide important benchmarks, providing one size fits all treatment for the huge variety of people in prison is not adequate. Women, children, and prisoners with mental health problems are among the prisoner who need a carefully tailored approach.

For women the adoption in December 2010  of the UN Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-custodial measures for Women Offenders (known as the ‘Bangkok Rules’) marks an important step forward. Foreign prisoners, those from minority groups, older prisoners and those facing a sentence of death are among the categories which  need additional and specialised provision to respond to their needs and characteristics.

UNODC have produced the “Handbook on prisoners with special needs”. Click here to view