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The UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (SMR) are often regarded as the primary source of standards in relation to treatment of all persons in detention. They also represent a key framework for oversight bodies to assess the treatment of prisoners.
In 2011, the international community embarked on the revision of the SMR, initially adopted in 1955. Yet, in six decades, standards had evolved, not only on how to manage prisons effectively, but also on how to do so in a way that complies with human rights and serves a rehabilitative purpose rather than mere retribution. In a four-year process, the international community revised the most outdated provisions of the SMR and completed the process in December 2015 with the adoption of the revised Standards, also known as the Nelson Mandela Rules. The revised text was informed by extensive negotiations, involving State delegates, representatives of international organizations and civil society, academics – and also prison officers. As the negotiations showed, the Mandela Rules managed to consolidate and reconcile criminal justice and human rights standards, protecting the rights of prisoners, and providing reliable and up-to-date guidance for prison staff and administrations at the same time.
In 2018, ODIHR and Penal Reform International (PRI) published a comprehensive document outlining existing standards and good practices and providing guidance to OSCE countries for the implementation of the Mandela Rules. This guidance was developed based on research, regional consultations with prison administration, penitentiary staff and NGOs, as well as a peer review meeting with international experts and institutions. In this process, promising practices from the OSCE region were collected to illustrate possible approaches to implementation. The Guidance document is designed to assist prison administrations to improve conditions of detention and the treatment of prisoners, with a focus on preventing torture and other ill-treatment. With a focus on the revised rules, it covers the thematic areas of prison management, safety and security, incident prevention and response, restrictions, discipline and sanctions, contact with the outside world, and health care. It also includes a section on external monitoring.
Penitentiary staff have a demanding job. They need to ensure safety and security in detention and support the rehabilitation of prisoners. They also play an essential role in ensuring that the human rights of people in prison are respected. This, in turn, creates safer environments for prison staff and ensures that prison authorities are able to contribute to achieving the primary purpose of criminal justice systems, namely the rehabilitation and reintegration of prisoners for the benefit of society as a whole. To complement the Guidance document, ODIHR and PRI are currently developing a training curriculum for prison staff to help them understand and implement the Rules in practice. This work is conducted in close cooperation with the Swedish Prison and Probation Service and in consultation with UNODC. Based on the Guidance document, the curriculum is designed for a four-day training course and is complemented by a trainer’s manual. The next steps will be the organization of a pilot training in an OSCE country followed by a training of trainer.
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