Imprisonment has become the default response to socially unwanted behaviour and popular ‘tough on crime’ policies have seen the number of people imprisoned under criminal law drastically increase. There is little evidence to show that prison sentences are a deterrent or reduce recidivism.
Over 10.74 million men, women and children are in prison around the world, many for minor, non-violent offences. More than 2.5 million are awaiting trial, and some spend longer on remand waiting for their case to be heard than they would ever receive as a prison sentence if or when convicted. We promote the use of non-custodial sentences including probation and community services. Non-custodial sentences should be meaningful, address offending behaviour and meet the needs and circumstances of at-risk groups.
The UN Tokyo Rules provide a set of basic principles to promote the use of non-custodial measures and sanctions, as well as minimum safeguards for persons subject to alternatives to imprisonment.
The UN Bangkok Rules give guidance on gender-sensitive alternatives for both pre-trial detention and sentencing post-conviction which address the most common causes of offending. They recognise that prison is usually an ineffective, and often damaging, solution to offending by women, hindering their social reintegration and ability to live productive and law abiding lives following release.
In some countries, individuals are sent to prison for very minor offences: from abusive language to unlawful trespassing. Imprisonment is not only a disproportionate response but contributes to serious prison overcrowding. In many countries, the number of people imprisoned exceeds official prison capacity and pre-trial detention contributes to overcrowding.
For many, a prison sentence is not an appropriate response. There are a number of of non-custodial alternatives to imprisonment. At the pre-trial stage, alternatives include bail, seizure of travel documents, periodic reporting to the police, electronic monitoring and curfew. For those found guilty, courts can impart fines, community service orders or restorative justice.
Rehabilitation and reintegration
Poor and socially excluded populations