Corruption within justice systems, including in detention facilities, is widespread in many countries.
In a corrupt judicial system, the right to a fair trial, access to legal representation and even a sentence can be impacted by money or influence. Corruption can take various forms; for example, in East Africa our research found that some sentencing authorities were reluctant to impose community service as a sentence because it will be assumed that they have received a gift of some kind.
Corruption within prison systems has a whole range of negative consequences, not least on the human rights of persons detained, but also on effective prison management. It can prevent people from accessing basic services and divert public funds from their intended purpose. In corrupt systems people in prison may need to pay to have visits with their family, shower or be fed. They may need to pay bribes to have adequate time out of their cell or even protect themselves from violence at the hands of staff.
Corruption perpetrated by justice actors, such as police and prison staff, tends to be common where they are poorly paid and looking for supplemental income, and it flourishes where there are inadequate oversight and accountability mechanisms. ‘Petty’ corruption by underpaid public officials was identified by the UN Subcommittee for the prevention of torture which pointed out that this had a disproportionate impact on the poorest detainees as they may be unable to pay bribes.
Poor conditions of detention, particularly in overcrowded facilities, make it more likely that corrupt prison officers can extort payment from people detained for basic services or access to visits, etc.
A comprehensive anti-corruption strategy is required to tackle the issue in justice systems. In places of deprivation of liberty this includes increasing transparency, accountability and oversight; clear procedures and record-keeping. For more discussion on anti-corruption measures see UNODC’s Handbook.