Last week, experts from a number of countries gathered at the institute in Lund to discuss challenges ahead and lessons learned at a seminar on good prison practice.
We sat down with two of the participants to talk about what human rights violations persons in conflict with the law face all around the word.
Mr. Christer Isaksson, head of the International Department at Swedish Prisons and Probation Service, came to the seminar to talk about Swedish contributions to the UN’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations (UNDPKO) missions in Africa.
Isaksson has worked in different RWI project for many years, both in China and Africa. On Friday, he spoke about a new cooperation with the Institute that focuses on a project in Kenya. “It’s a three-year project where we will work equally on probation and institutional care in Kenya, where we will conduct trainings in a number of agreed disciplines,” Isaksson says.
He said probation is about establishing a function so you don’t have to send every person to institutional care. “It’s a way to reduce the overcrowding, which is the largest issue for prisons globally,” he says.
Underfunding, lack of staff and focus among policy makers is another problem leading to overcrowding in prisons around the world, he says. “Another problem in many countries is that people are getting sentenced on routine and receive really long prison sentences for petty crimes. It’s a vicious circle,” he says.
Once sentenced to prison, it is hard to get out of the system. “If not sentenced to go to prison, the prognosis of not falling back into crime is much better,” Isaksson says.
With the probation service, the project focuses on ensuring that good investigation materials are presented before a trial, so the judge can use another penalty than prison.
“On the institutional side, there are a series of projects, which involves both the creation of personal involvement by health professionals to try to move away from a guard mentality to a more individual focused way of working with inmates,” he says. “An individual risk assessment is key, and that’s what RWI has been working a lot on. Human rights is the mantra, what everything is weaved in to.”
The Bangkok Rules
Also participating in the seminar was Ms. Chontit Chuenurah, Programme Chief for the Implementation of the Bangkok Rules and Treatment of Offenders at Thailand Institute of Justice. She spoke about the current practices and challenges in implementing the United Nations rules for the treatment of women prisoners and non-custodial measures for women.
The purpose of these so-called Bangkok rules is to protect the basic human rights of women in prisons, with focus on gender specific needs. “The special needs of women have long been ignored,” she says. “Women get pregnant and have caring responsibilities in their families, and these factors have not been addressed by any international standards. It’s different from when men go to prison, in many cases it’s the women who take care of small children and elderly family members, and this is a global phenomenon.”
Right now, the Bangkok rules, or guidelines, are being implemented in some countries, and some progress has been made since they were adopted five years ago. “Some countries have incorporated the Bangkok rules into their domestic law or prison regulations,” she says. Some countries have difficulties implementing the rules because of the overcrowding, and generally the number of imprisoned persons are growing every year. “Access to healthcare is often very limited, and too little sleeping space is becoming a large problem as well,” says Chuenurah.
Another problem Chuenurah noticed during her research is that LGBT persons are treated differently than other inmates. “In some places the prison authorities separate them from the rest of the women, and the prison staff sees them as troublemakers or that they could be the cause of jealousy. There are also prejudices that they are more masculine and therefore more violent than heterosexual women. For this particular group there are also different rules on how they should cut their hair and how they should dress,” she says.
In some places, LGBT women cannot even touch or socialize with other female inmates.
“In my experience, that is quite an obvious human rights violation,” Chuenurah says.
Chuenurah said the seminar was a good opportunity to learn about good practices and challenges in implementing any type of international standards. “In my work I focus mainly on Asia, so it was interesting to hear about good practices in Scandinavian and African contexts,” she said.