Saturday 25th November was the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. To mark the occasion, PRI live-streamed a performance of award-winning play Key Change from the Open Clasp Theatre Company. The play was devised with women in HMP Low Newton prison in the UK, and originally toured in male prisons, but was also performed at the UK Houses of Parliament and on Broadway in New York. The performance can be watched here for free until 10th December.
The Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya, Ghassan Salamé, released a statement to mark the day. In this, he addressed the arbitrary detention of women and girls in prisons without female guards.
The Institute for Criminal Policy Research(ICPR) has published its fourth edition of the World Female Imprisonment List. In this expert blog, Catherine Heard, Senior Research Fellow at the ICPR, looks at the findings, which show that the female prison population has risen by about 53 per cent since 2000. There are more than 714,000 women and girls currently in prison around the world. (Photo: Karla Nur).
Heather McGill recently authored a report for Amnesty International on prisoner transportation in Russia. In this expert blog for PRI, Heather discusses her findings, looking in particular at the overcrowded train carriages that Russian prisoners find themselves forced into – transportation that the European Court of Human Rights has previously ruled as equating to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. The report can be read here. (Photo: Ernest Mezak).
Along with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), PRI's Middle East and North Africa office hosted a consultation with international experts and practitioners to facilitate the sharing of knowledge and good practice in addressing violent extremism in prison. Experts from over 13 countries agreed that security measures alone cannot be the answer to violent extremism.
Read PRI's briefing on Children and violent extremismhere.
Research published in the Lancet Psychiatry Journal has found no clear link between overcrowding in prisons and prison suicides. The report concluded that prison suicides 'are likely to be the result of a complex interaction of different factors, and not merely due to the prison environment'.
In its most recent report on Spain, the Council of Europe's Committee for the Prevention of Torture has called for an end of the resort to mechanical fixation of inmates. This involves inmates being fixed to a bed for prolonged periods without adequate supervision and recording; in some cases, this was used punitively. Rule 47 of the Nelson Mandela Rules prohibits instruments of restraint which are 'inherently degrading or painful'.
Poor conditions in Moldovan prison are a recurrent problem
The European Court of Human Rights found a breach of Article 3 (a violation of the prohibition of ill-treatment) in a Moldovan prison this month, in a case where the applicant submitted that he was detained in a cold, overcrowded cell with no natural light or ventilation. In finding a breach, the Court noted that it had already indicated to the State authorities in a 2016 case that it was to adopt measures to improve conditions in the prison. A press release for the judgment can be found here.
PRI delivers training to correctional officers in Kenya on UN Bangkok Rules
On 14–16 November, PRI co-facilitated a training workshop for 23 prison and probation officers in Kenya on the UN Bangkok Rules, alongside trainers from Nairobi’s Langata Women’s Prison. The all-female group of participants were taken through modules on a range of issues for women offenders, including healthcare, safety and security, addressing violence against women, and alternatives to imprisonment.
Asked how they will implement the learning, one participant commented that 'I will give prisoners information at admission, and also change the first impression of prisons… I will ask them the information we need and let them think about their answers for 5–10 minutes, and generally be more friendly.'
Another officer emphasised that through the workshop she had 'learnt I need to emphasise good relationships with prisoners', citing dynamic security as a new tool.
Sharon Richardson, a survivor of domestic violence, was sentenced to 20 years to life for killing her abusive boyfriend. She talks about her experiences, as well as attempts in the US to pass a Domestic Violence Survivors Act, which aims to change the criminal justice system’s response to domestic violence survivors who act to protect themselves and their families from an abuser.
Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative: Call for information on physical searches of women prisoners
Body searches, including pat-down searches, strip searches and invasive body searches in custody, is a practice that can seriously undermine a person’s dignity. That is why the Bangkok Rules, and now also the Mandela Rules, give guidance on conducting body searches. Bangkok Rule 20 calls for alternative screening methods to be developed, and Bangkok Rule 21 specifically calls for alternatives to be used to better safeguard women prisoners’ dignity.
Pilot projects for use of body scanners as replacements to physical searches in prison have been developed in some countries, including USA, Australia and Northern Ireland, in the last decade. However, there are few studies on their safety and any effects on the health of prisoners.
At present, there is no comprehensive written policy in India that addresses these issues, so, at the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, we are hoping to draft a policy which would include certain safeguards and prerequisites for conducting such searches (drawing on international law, e.g. that searches should be subject to the principles of proportionality, legality and necessity, per the Mandela and Bangkok Rules). There should be explicit safeguards to ensure prisoners’ dignity is protected. Without safeguards and technological advances, we are allowing authorities to have full discretion to trample the dignity of women inside prisons under the garb of ‘thorough’ searches.
If you are aware of the policies for body searches of women prisoners in your countries, we would appreciate if you could share these with us, to assist us in preparing the policy. Please email these to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com. Many thanks!
A proposed bill in Brazil seeks to authorise the use of electric shock weapons in juvenile detention facilities and during the transfer of juvenile detainees. The Omega Research Foundation has provided a comprehensive technical note alongside another human rights organisation, Justiça Global, to analyse the proposals from a human rights and international law perspective.
197 child life sentences were handed down in the United Kingdom between 2006 and 2016. In this article, David Scott from The Open University's Harm and Evidence Research Collaborative examines how children are dealt with by the criminal justice system and advocates for the abolition of life imprisonment for children.
A new report from the Drug Policy Alliance focuses on why drug-induced homicide laws are counterproductive and inhumane. The report examines the evidence that current strategies may be intensifying, rather than helping, the problem, and increasing the rates of overdose deaths.