Penal Reform International published today the fourth edition of the Global Prison Trends 2018 at the UN Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice. The Report is prepared in collaboration with the Thailand Institute of Justice. It includes a foreword by the Rt Hon Helen Clark, Member of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, Former Prime Minister of New Zealand and Former Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme.
The Report explores Trends in the use of imprisonment, Prison populations, Developments and challenges in prison management, The role of technology in criminal justice and prison systems and The expansion of prison alternatives. A Special Focus section looks at the rehabilitation and reintegration of offenders in the era of sustainable development.
The Report clearly states that harsh criminal justice responses to drugs are a major contributor to prison overcrowding, and the ‘war on drugs’ persists in some countries with disastrous consequences. According to available UN data, 83 per cent of drug offences recorded by law enforcement and criminal justice systems are possession offences. However, more promisingly, UN bodies and an increasing number of states are rejecting this approach. Reforms include the decriminalisation of cannabis and reducing sentences for minor offences.
Recommendation 8 of the Report, based on the Sustainable Development Goals 3, 5 and 16, proposes that “States should review their drug policies in order to adopt evidence-based policies that include decriminalisation of minor offences, proportionality of sentencing, and non-custodial alternatives to imprisonment. Treatment as an alternative to imprisonment must be voluntary and human-rights compliant. Metrics to measure the outcomes of drug policies should include their impact on human rights, health and development”.
Also, Recommendation 25 proposes that “States should develop and implement alternatives to imprisonment, including restorative justice processes. A focus should be on addressing root causes of crime, including poverty and inequality, to support efforts to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Non-custodial sanctions should replace the use of prison, rather than widening the net of criminal justice control”.
The section on Health indicated that the rates for HIV, tuberculosis and other infectious diseases among prisoners remain much higher than in the general community. The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) estimates that people in prison are on average five times more likely to be living with HIV compared with adults outside prisons,263 although a higher estimate of 15 per cent is given by the World Health Organization. The Rapport recommends that “Drug prevention and treatment and HIV prevention, treatment and care should be available to people in prison at the same level is that provided in the community. Efforts to recruit sufficient healthcare staff in prisons should be doubled”.