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Penal Reform International launch their Global Prison Trends 2017 Report

25th May 2017

Penal Reform International have launched their Global Prison Trends 2017 report in which they have analysed certain trends that have commonality across global penal institutions. They have found some progressive advancements and positive trends but they have also found some trends that are a cause of concern most notably the increase in female prisoners. They report a 50 percent increase in female prisoners since 2010 referencing data from 2015 which shows that the female prison population is increasing at a faster rate than the male prison population.

Prison overcrowding remains the priority challenge facing prison administrations globally. Prison reform drives have had some success in some countries but there is still a trend globally to mass incarceration. The Netherlands has in the last five years managed to decrease their prison population by a quarter. The largest decrease was in the imprisonment of children and young people leading to the closure of 19 prisons with a plan to shut five more. There has been a greater understanding globally of how women enter prison since the Bangkok Rules 2010

Key information contained in the report:

  • Data from 2015 estimates that there are more than 700,000 women and girls held in 219 national prison systems and that the population is increasing at a faster rate than for the male population.
  • In Ireland, the prison service reported that 80 per cent of female committals to prison in 2014 were for non-payment of fines
  • Studies confirm that a high number of women are being imprisoned for minor offences relating to poverty and familial roles.
  • UNODC suggested that the number of children in prison may be slowly declining, with the rate falling from 12 to 10 per 100,000 children between the period 2004–2006 and the period 2011–2013
  • While there continues to be a lack of data and comprehensive research available on elderly prisoners globally, the increasing length of prison sentences, partly due to punitive sentencing policies, has been identified as one of the reasons for this trend.

Recommendations:

  • States should implement the Nelson Mandela Rules on solitary confinement in law and practice, and restrict its use to exceptional cases. It should be applied only for the shortest time possible and be subject to regular, substantive review. Prolonged and indefinite solitary confinement should be prohibited entirely.
  • States need to take measures to protect LGBTI prisoners from discrimination, harassment and abuse. Individuals’ gender identity and choice should be taken into account prior to placement of transgender prisoners. Separation of prisoners for their protection should only occur in agreement with the person concerned, and must not lead to any limitations in accessing programmes and services.
  • The age of criminal responsibility must be no lower than 12 years and should be progressively raised to 18. Justice systems need to be child friendly and gender sensitive, using detention only as a very last resort for children, and prohibiting the death penalty and life imprisonment.
  • Initiatives to support rehabilitation and reintegration of prisoners upon release should be expanded and individualised to each prisoner. Programmes should address the key barriers to reintegration by providing support with education, vocational training, work, healthcare, social and psychological services.
  • States should assess the proportionality of criminal sanctions and bear in mind the danger of net widening when applying alternatives to imprisonment. Mandatory minimum sentences should be discontinued as they impede the independence of judges and the consideration of individual circumstances in sentencing

See report here.