Penal Reform International (PRI) is a non-governmental organisation working globally to promote criminal justice systems that uphold human rights for all and do no harm. We work to make criminal justice systems non-discriminatory and protect the rights of disadvantaged people. We run practical human rights programmes and support reforms that make criminal justice fair and effective.
Criminal law, due process and detention practices play core, even emblematic, roles in human rights protection. The decade we are entering will determine whether the world is able to sustain and promote human rights, basic humanity, and international law. The health of criminal justice systems and conditions in prisons are essential indicators of the status of human rights in any country.
Introduction to PRI’s 2020-2023 strategy
Over 11 million men, women and children are in prison around the world, a large proportion for minor and non-violent offences. Over 3 million people in detention are awaiting trial. However, overall, crime is not rising; the number of people in contact with criminal justice systems across the globe, and significantly the number of people in detention, is rising.
We put people in criminal justice systems at the heart of our work. All persons are vulnerable when they come into contact with a criminal justice system, face criminal proceedings, are in detention, or re-enter society after time spent in prison. Yet many systems continue to be designed for a homogeneous population and are discriminatory. Specific groups of people indeed require a distinct approach to protect their rights because they are especially at risk of violence or neglect. They too often ignore needs and vulnerabilities that are due to differences of circumstance, individual characteristics, or identity, typically older people, LGBTQ people, people with disabilities, ethnic and religious minorities.
- We address the continued rise in the number of women affected by criminal justice systems, including the growing number of women who are imprisoned, knowing that the majority are detained for petty, non-violent offences, often as a result of discrimination, deprivation or violence. We press criminal justice systems to take account of the specific characteristics of women and adopt gender-sensitive approaches to meet their needs and protect their human rights.
- We work internationally to challenge the unnecessary imprisonment of children and young adults, which can cause long-term psychological and physical harm as well as social, educational, and economic disadvantage, isolation from family and community, stigmatisation, and put children and young adults at risk of torture or physical and emotional abuse. Detention should only be used as a last resort for children. We will increase the attention given to young adults in conflict with the law. It is vital to ensure that they have access to appropriate rehabilitation programmes and that their sentences are proportionate.
- We work with criminal justice systems to make them responsive to the needs of foreign nationals. We will increase our efforts to ensure respect for the human rights, especially the procedural rights, of stateless persons and individuals without an identified nationality who are in contact with criminal justice systems or who are criminalised because of their status.
Our priorities are to address key trends in criminal justice systems, and build systems that do no harm and protect the human rights of people who have contravened the law. PRI continuously documents key developments in criminal justice systems globally. We address them to ensure that persons who enter the criminal justice system experience no harm.
We work practically to create fair and effective criminal justice systems. We promote practical reform of criminal justice systems to bring about systematic and comprehensive change. We apply international standards that promote alternatives to detention and, where detention is necessary, improved and humane conditions. We seek to ensure that, at a minimum, criminal justice systems do not cause damage to individuals’ lives and have rehabilitation at their heart. Therefore, we promote alternatives to prison which support the rehabilitation of offenders and reduce the likelihood of re-offending.
To make our work successful, impactful and sustainable, we develop strong ties with a variety of actors. Our independence and specialised expertise make us a valued partner for governments, parliaments and state agencies, independent state bodies, international organisations, and national and international civil society organisations. We have a reputation for staying the course in a field where progress can be slow, and for remaining independent in our relationships with external stakeholders.
PRI operates globally through offices in multiple locations, currently Amman, Bishkek, Kampala, London, Nur-Sultan, Tbilisi, to work in Middle East and North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, Central Asia and South Caucasus. We value the diversity of our global presence and with our governance ensure that our programmes are well-coordinated.
We have consultative status at the United Nations (ECOSOC), the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and the Council of Europe.