Our history

1989First steps taken to establish PRI by an international group of criminal justice and human rights activists inspired by change brought about by fall of the Berlin Wall.
1990PRI registers as an association in the Netherlands with specific objectives to address the overuse of incarceration and its effects, eliminate discrimination in access to justice, and work for the abolition of the death penalty.
1992PRI supports prisoners on death row in the Caribbean.
1993PRI is granted Consultative Status with the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and the Council of Europe, and Observer Status with the African Commission on Human and Peoples" Rights (ACHPR).

PRI begins working with local partners in sub-Saharan Africa, planning a hostel for released prisoners in Kenya and Tanzania, and a programme of community service in Zimbabwe as an alternative to custody.

Our work in East Africa today
1994PRI projects are now running in over 30 countries around the world, including South Asia and Latin America.
1995PRI launches Making Standards Work, a practical guide to the implementation of human rights standards in prison.
1996In Africa, PRI and the ACHPR organise the largest ever conference on prison conditions, attended by delegates from over 40 African states and resulting in appointment by the Commission of a Special Rapporteur on prisons and conditions of detention in Africa.

Work begins in Puerto Rico to facilitate sharing of experience in and from that region, and provides training to local organisations on good practice in prison management.
1997The Kadoma Declaration on Community Service Orders emerges from a PRI international conference held in Zimbabwe, where over a three-year trial period 16,000 people received community service orders instead of prison sentences.

In the Caribbean, PRI begins working with children charged with minor offences as data shows that children sent to prison are more likely to join a criminal gang and commit further offences on release than those given non-custodial sentences.

Our current work on justice for children
1999After 10 years of work, PRI gathers delegates from 52 countries to discuss the challenges for penal reform and to formulate a strategy for overcoming them. PRI works with African heads of correctional services to develop the Arusha Declaration on Good Prison Practice, including improving management, involvement of civil society and dynamic security. This is endorsed in a UN ECOSOC Resolution calling for new approaches in criminal justice sanctions.
2000In Malawi, the work of the Paralegal Advisory Service leads to a decrease in pre-trial detention, as prisoners are empowered to represent themselves and obtain bail, and juveniles held in police custody are diverted from prison.
2001The successful Paralegal Advice Service established in Malawi serves as a model for the introduction of a similar service in Benin. PRI supports the Rwandan authorities in responding to the effects of an overwhelming number of genocide cases.
2002In the Caribbean, the death penalty project wins the right to free legal assistance for over 60 prisoners under sentence of death.

Our current work on the death penalty
2004PRI and the international penal reform community mourn the loss of Ahmed Othmani, one of the founders of PRI.

Ahmed Othmani had made an enormous contribution and, as a former political prisoner, had been an inspirational leader under whose chairmanship PRI grew into an internationally recognised expert reform body, with 12 offices and over 100 members of staff.

In Malawi, over 21 African countries gather to discuss and promote legal aid services in the criminal justice system and the Lilongwe Declaration on legal aid is adopted.
2005A new regional office is established in Jordan enabling PRI to develop its activities in the Middle East and North Africa, and in Rwanda, the first two reports on the Gacaca programme are published.
2007Strategies for protecting pre-trial detainees" rights and reducing prison overcrowding are implemented in Rwanda, Burundi, Central Asia and the South Caucasus. The UN ECOSOC adopts a resolution reflecting the Lilongwe Declaration on legal aid and the PRI / UNICEF juvenile justice manual is published and translated into Arabic.
2008PRI launches Africa"s Recommendations for Penal Reform at the ACHPR, encouraging states and NGOs in Africa to implement previously agreed action plans and proposals.
2009PRI celebrates 20 years of work this year. At the invitation of the Ministry of Justice of Thailand, PRI helps draft new UN guidelines for the treatment of women in conflict with the law. 2009 also sees the end of the Gacaca trials in Rwanda and PRI"s final report on the process is completed.
2010The United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-Custodial Measures for Women Offenders (‘the Bangkok Rules") are adopted. PRI advocated intensively for their adoption and continues to promote their implementation.

Our current work on the UN Bangkok Rules

PRI"s approach to making societies safer is set out in Making Law and Policy that Work which was launched at the UN Crime Congress in April 2010. PRI helps draft proposed new guidelines for legal aid in criminal cases at meetings organised by the UN Office for Drugs and Crime. In 2010 PRI"s regional offices were based in Russia, Kazakhstan, Georgia, Jordan and Rwanda. At the end of December the office in the Great Lakes region of Africa closed, following a decision to work in Africa through local partnerships.
2011Work begins with partners in East Africa and South Asia. PRI hosts three film festivals in Jordan, Kazakhstan and Georgia on the abolition of the death penalty and life imprisonment.

PRI"s Middle East and North Africa office completes its six-year juvenile justice programme funded by SIDA. PRI updates its Ten-point plan to address prison overcrowding and Ten-point plan for fair and effective criminal justice for children, both now available on the website for use as campaigning and information tools.
2012PRI continues its work to promote the UN Bangkok Rules and the newly adopted UN Principles and Guidelines on Access to Legal Aid in Criminal Justice Systems, as well as updating the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners. It organises a cross-regional conference on torture prevention in Tbilisi, Georgia as well as an international conference on violence against children in detention with UNICEF in Kyrgyzstan. Both are streamed live via webcast.

PRI receives Observer Status with the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.
2013PRI launches three flagship publications: Toolbox on the UN Bangkok Rules, including PRI’s first free e-learning course; a Detention Monitoring Tool to help monitoring bodies to detect and prevent torture; and a brand new edition of our popular Juvenile Justice Manual.

Reducing unnecessary imprisonment remains at the heart of what we do. An OSF-funded project in Georgia concluded this year, with statistics now showing greater use and awareness of community service; in East Africa we took the first steps to establish a pan-African Network on Probation and Community Service.

PRI also continues work to protect the rights of children in conflict and in contact with the law, pushing for greater recognition of their needs and engaging in practical projects to establish child-friendly justice systems.
2014 PRI celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, launching a new short animated film – Is a prison sentence always the solution?

PRI’s work on the UN Bangkok Rules continues with a focus on training. Over 300 individuals from over 60 countries take part in face-to-face training and our e-learning course. The revision of the UN Standard Minimum Rules moves closer to completion.

In our regions, work with governments over a number of years pays off with a new Children’s Act in Jordan introducing improvements for children in conflict with the law, and in Kazakhstan, with revised criminal codes.

In East Africa, we launch a new project to expand community service in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.
2015In 2015, the UN General Assembly unanimously adopts the revised UN Standard Minimum Rules, renaming them the Nelson Mandela Rules. This was the culmination of four years of intensive advocacy by PRI and other organisations to bring the 60-year-old Rules up to date with modern human rights standards.

We publish several influential reports, for example: Global Prison Trends – a unique and comprehensive overview of global penal policy and practice, and Sharia law and the death penalty. We also host our first event on addressing radicalisation in prisons, bringing together experts from 15 countries.

Elsewhere, we continue to work with a wide range of partners in government and civil society to develop and strengthen probation services; build child-friendly justice systems; and reduce the damaging incarceration of women offenders.
2016We continue to promote the Nelson Mandela Rules. In collaboration with the UK government, PRI publishes a Short Guide to the Nelson Mandela Rules, which is now available in eight languages. PRI and the University of Essex's Human Rights Centre publish a guidance document on the interpretation and implementation of the Rules.

A pilot project with partner Kenya Probation Service is implemented to develop a gender-sensitive approach to the delivery of community sanctions. The subsequent research report is launched in October, and a short film is produced to highlight the benefits and challenges experienced by women serving community sentences.

Our publications in 2016 include the second edition of our Global Prison Trends series, as well as a 10-point plan to reform criminal justice responses to drugs.

PRI establishes a pilot office in Kampala, Uganda, to explore the potential for sustainable funding for penitentiary reform.