International standards for women offenders and prisoners 2

Written By: Florina Laza

The Bangkok Rules are a so-called soft law instrument which means they are not legally binding like conventions, but they express an international commitment from all member states (193 member states of UN) and over time can become “good practice“, growing as influential as legally binding conventions. They apply to women prisoners in pre-trial detention, serving a sentence, women subject to non-custodial measures (pre-trial) or non-custodial sanctions (post-conviction), women offenders subject to corrective measures and women detained under “protective” custody. Some of the rules apply equally to both men and women, especially those relating to parental responsibility, medical services or searching procedures, and other only refer to the situation of the children of prisoners.

            This international instrument aims to create the main guideline for policymakers, legislators, sentencing authorities and prison stuff. As a result of it, finally, the unnecessary suffering for women in prisons may be reduced significantly. Because of the harsh conditions completely unsuited for women, they tend to have fewer chances in reintegration, leading even to recidivism as a way of survival. And considering that women are the primary caretaker of young children, even short periods of detention can have a damaging impact on a child’s normal growth.

            There are many international instruments that create an all-encompassing image of the international framework for the treatment of prisoners or offenders serving alternative sanctions. These include the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Nelson Mandela Rules), which were initially adopted in 1955 and recently revised in 2015, and the UN Standard Minimum Rules for Non-custodial Measures (the Tokyo Rules). The UN Bangkok Rules have the purpose of filling in the missing parts of the others, coming to supplement rather than replace the Nelson Mandela Rules and the Tokyo Rules.

The Nelson Mandela Rules present a set of minimum international legal standards for the treatment of prisoners. They have been used as a model for the creation of specific national legislation by governments from all around the world. They were, of course, an important step forward for a better civilization, considering that all UN member states committed to addressing all the required conditions and norms. The Tokyo Rules were adopted in 1990 and came in handy for the promotion of non-custodial measures and minimum safeguards for people subject to alternatives to imprisonment. All those international instruments create international standards, generally speaking, the Nelson Mandela Rules supplementing only in some areas the Bangkok Rules, and the Tokyo Rules only refer to non-specific provisions aiming the protection of men and women equally. And so, those specific provisions aspire to protect female prisoners who are in prison awaiting trial or serving prison sentences following a conviction, female offenders sentenced to non-custodial sanctions and children of the imprisoned parent.
Without a doubt, the adoption of the Bangkok Rules represented a major step forward in recognizing the gender-specific needs of women in the criminal justice system, providing a good example for government ministries, policymakers, legislators, prison authorities and staff, prison healthcare services, probation and parole services, and prison monitoring bodies.
They contain a wide range of healthcare and rehabilitation programs, necessary training for prison staff and, of course, supplementary assessments for visiting rights. This means a required reproductive healthcare, gender-specific medical treatments, prevention for substance abuse, well-prepared responses for mental health and indispensable access to preventive health care such as breast cancer screening. There is, also, a prohibition of solitary confinement or disciplinary segregation for pregnant women, women with infants and breastfeeding mothers. Furthermore, women should be treated with humanity and dignity, emphasizing on search procedures. For example, they should be searched by female guards and not by the man who often sees an opportunity in using their authority in harassing and humiliating them. It is common knowledge that women prisoners are particularly vulnerable to all forms of sexual misconduct by prison staff and other prisoners. The Rules also demand a special treatment for mothers prior to admission, so they can find the most appropriate alternative childcare.
In conclusion, the society made huge improvements over the years in respect to the protection of incarcerated women in prison facilities offering a tremendous scale of model provisions that don’t require additional resources for their implementation. What is to be truly changed is the common prejudice of people when it comes to a women role in the society, her image, and her reputation, because all these affect her reintegration and her ability to live her life in a proper manner. Moreover, the international community should implement gender-sensitive alternatives to detention, because imprisonment has become more of an ineffective tool than a useful one, often destroying any chances of a future outside the prison facility.

Edited By: Rachit Mehrotra

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