Prisoners' treatment, social reintegration and prison management in the Sahel: UNODC promotes penal reform in the region
As Sahel countries face increasing security threats related to terrorism, organized crime and illicit trafficking, their penitentiary systems come under growing pressure. With the highest prison overcrowding rates in the world according to UNODC estimates, ranging from 120% to 232%, imprisonment conditions in Burkina Faso, Chad, Niger, Mali and Mauritania raise numerous concerns for both human rights and security in the region.
For these reasons, UNODC organised a workshop on prison reform in Niamey, Niger, on 9-14 November 2014. The event regrouped officers in charge of penitentiary administration from aforementioned countries for the first time, as well as representatives from Algeria, Senegal and Central African Republic, to discuss and share best practices in view of increasing the efficiency of prison management and promote social reintegration for detainees, and determine technical assistance needs for UNODC to address in 2015.
The main conclusions and recommendations reached included establishing a regional network of prison administrators to keep exchanging on issues and possible solutions and best practices. The need to review existing legislation and regulation on the status of prison staff in each country was equally raised, along with the development of a training curriculum that could be adapted and used in each country, drawing on existing UNODC handbooks and training materials. These initiatives enjoyed high levels of support from both the Prime Minister and the Minister of Justice of Niger, and from delegates from other countries of the region that were present at the workshop. They will be leveraged by UNODC throughout 2015.
Throughout the workshop, the main issues addressed revolved around seven pillars: (i) capacities of penitentiary administration, including the status of penitentiary staff, along with related training programmes and standards; (ii) groups with special needs, such as terrorists, women and children; (iii) social reintegration; (iv) safety and security for both staff and detainees; (v) laws, regulations and penal policies, with a special view to their harmonization in line with international standards; (vi) prison overcrowding; and (vii) infrastructure.
In the framework of the UNODC contribution to the Sahel Strategy 2011-2017, penal reform efforts aim at ensuring the respect of detainees' rights as stipulated by the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, the United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-Custodial Measures for Women Offenders (the Bangkok Rules) and other relevant international instruments, in particular international human rights conventions. Also pursuant to these international instruments, they aim at establishing and developing programmes of alternatives to imprisonment and social reintegration. Although such programmes target the full prison population, assistance based on proper classification of prisoners should help design and implement targeted initiatives, including to counter threats posed by radicalism and organized crime, which continue to hamper security and development efforts in the Sahel region.