Nearly 12 million people are in prison worldwide, with nearly a third awaiting sentencing, at a time when prisons are overcrowded in half of all countries, according to a new UN report released on Tuesday. On the occasion of Nelson Mandela International Day, marked on 18 July, UN news looked at some ongoing efforts.
The legacy of the former South African President, who was imprisoned under the country’s apartheid regime for 27 years, lives on, including supporting the rights of prisoners.
Mr. Mandela’s words resonate even today among prisoners and prison staff around the world: “It is said that one does not truly know a country until one is inside its prisons. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but by its lowest.”
“It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its prisons. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but by its lowest. ” – Nelson Mandela
UN Secretary-General António Guterres said on Tuesday that Mr. Mandela “a man of great courage and conviction, a leader of great success and extraordinary humanity, a giant of our time, whose legacy we honor most through action”.
Against a backdrop of current reports of human rights violations against prisoners from Honduras to Iran along with the rise of violent extremism and terrorist recruitment behind bars in some countries, the new Prison reform initiatives are underway in all regions. They are guided by the Mandela Rules, or, as they are officially known, The United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisonerswhich offers a 21st century blueprint for good prison management.
The theme of Mandela Day this year is “prisoners matter”, where the Mandela Rules provide guidance. The rules provide clear guidelines for prison officials regarding the safety, security, and humane treatment of inmates. As the guardian of the rules, the UN Office on Drugs and Crimes (UNODC) works to promote and support their adoption worldwide.
From a free self-paced e-learning courses to the provision of training facilities with laptops and internet services, the agency and its partners are also working on community involvement in rehabilitation and reintegration. of prisoners.
In Yola, Nigeria, where the prison population has grown more than 25 percent since 2000, the agency organized a platform for community leaders and the Nigerian Correctional Service to develop a more integrated approach to reintegration. of the prisoners.
More broadly, the agency’s inmate rehabilitation initiative includes education, vocational training, and employment during incarceration. The goal is to contribute to their employability after release, thus reducing the chance of recidivism.
The agency explains that prisoners are often a forgotten population, with many in society thinking about them differently from the rest of society. However, they are a product and remain a part of society, and most of the prisoners are eventually released.
“What happens to people in prison affects us all in many ways: public safety, our health, our community’s finances, social cohesion, and ultimately the human dignity of all of us,” according to UNODC. “If we reduce incarceration rates, improve prison conditions, and improve prospects for social reintegration, we will all be better off. Prisoners are important.”
Countering violent extremism
A five-year effort with UNODC and partners reached thousands of prisoners in Kazakhstan, Tunisia, and Uganda in an effort to prevent the spread of violent extremism in prison settings.
“Prisons have an important role to play in tackling this challenge by ensuring the safe and secure custody of violent extremist prisoners, preventing the radicalization of violence within prisons, removing prisoners from the future violence, and preparing the released people for community reintegration,” according to the agency.
Achievements include training more than 6,500 prison officers, launching Tunisia’s first research center on violent extremism in prisons, and establishing rehabilitation and reintegration programs for those prisoner, from computer literacy to furniture making.
The joint effort is also supporting prisons during the COVID-19 pandemic, including sharing guidance documents, providing medical equipment, and vaccinating more than 12,000 inmates, prison staff, and family members. in Uganda.
For some prisoners, the results are worth this much effort. Nigerian Adamu learned millinery in prison, bringing his talents to the fore upon release. He is now an employer who makes fine caps popular with local traditional leaders.
Denny, halfway through his five-year sentence in Indonesia, is eager to get out and work in a coffee shop. He spent his days in vocational training and religious studies.
“My main drive now is to be a better person than I was before,” he said, adding that until that day, he will focus on making perfect cappuccinos in barista classes.
When Mr. dos Santos left prison in Brazil in 2019, he asked for help and got it from the Social Office, which is supported by the UN Development Program (UNDP).
“I came here and noticed the doors were open,” he said, describing his first visit. “They treated me well and showed me that there is a second chance.”
* Names have been changed to protect their privacy.
Snapshot of prisons today
The UNODC launched a new report on Tuesday, which provides an overview of people held in prison, including the latest data. Here are some highlights:
- Since 2000, the world’s prison population has increased by more than 25 percent.
- One out of every three prisoners worldwide is imprisoned without being proven guilty in a court of justice.
- In one of the five countries with available data, inmates exceed prison capacity by more than 150 percent.
- North America, sub-Saharan Africa, and Eastern Europe experienced long-term declines of up to 27 percent in incarceration rates since 2000, while Latin America, Australia, and New Zealand saw increases of up to 68 percent in last two decades.
- Most people held in prison worldwide are men (93 percent).
- In the last 20 years, the number of women in prisons has increased by 33 percent while there has been a 25 percent increase in the number of male inmates.
Learn more about how UNODC is working with countries to implement prison reform here.