PRI is sad to note the death of Al (Alvin) Bronstein, a dedicated prison reformer and long-serving PRI Board Member and Honorary President. Baroness Vivien Stern, a founding member of PRI and fellow Honorary President, worked alongside Al at PRI for many years, and pays tribute to him here.
Around the world prison reformers and civil rights activists are mourning the death of Al Bronstein. Al, who died on 31 October aged 87, was a towering figure in the penal reform movement.
I first met Al in the 1980s through his work in the National Prisons Project of the American Civil Liberties Union. I remember when he and I were both part of a small group of foreigners who were the first visitors to Butyrka Prison in Moscow in 1992 once Russia opened up to the outside world after the end of the Soviet era. He shook hands with dozens of bewildered and pasty-looking prisoners whose evil-smelling cells had suddenly opened for the foreigners to see them and he made them smile and pose for photographs and told them better times were coming.
In 1995, Al was elected to the Board of PRI and served for over a decade. When he stepped down in 2006, he was appointed Honorary President. His long association with PRI brought him right into the international penal reform movement and he came into contact with the United Nations human rights framework and its requirements about the treatment of detained people, not well known in the United States at that time. He decided to try and raise awareness of this framework in the US and persuaded the Board that PRI needed an office in Washington DC. He personally raised the funds to open the PRI office there and devoted a considerable amount of time to supporting it. The office worked to publicise and promote the idea that places of detention should be run according to law. It also contributed to the US movement for the abolition of the death penalty. To highlight the exceptional nature of the US use of imprisonment and treatment of prisoners, it brought to public attention the very different approach to imprisonment in European countries.
Al’s contribution to the development of PRI was outstanding and he is warmly remembered by the very many prisoners, prison staff, human rights lawyers, and penal reformers who worked with him and learnt so much from him.
Baroness Vivien Stern, 4 November 2015.
Readers may also like to read an obituary to Al Bronstein in the New York Times.