New approaches for the new age
An international conference with this name was held in April 1999 in London. 120 participants from 50 countries of Africa, North and Latin America, Central, Eastern and Southern Asia, Australia and Europe discussed the role of prisons in a democratic society. The number of regional reports describing the situation and problems in prison systems of various countries of the world were delivered at the conference. Ministers and MPs, judges and representatives of NGOs of different levels, which are involved in the prison reform and human rights protection, by joint efforts developed a draft of a reform for penitentiary systems for the next decade.
The participants of the conference have acknowledged the fact that prison systems throughout the world undergo a crisis. About 8 million people are incarcerated in the whole world, prisons in many countries are overcrowded, in a number of countries about 75% of all the incarcerated are suspects awaiting trial. In all the world prisons are establishments that are isolated from the society and forgotten by the public. Monitoring and inspection systems are not efficient. Overcrowdness, absence of hygienic measures, shortage of food and medicine, high level of infection diseases and high mortality rate, violation of human rights, coercion are common in prisons. The efficiency of prisons, in terms of preventing recidivist crime, is small and the percentage from the poorest classes is great.
The participants of the conference tried to find economical and realistic models of the prison reform, which would account for the cultural context and be oriented at the protection of human rights. In the new concept of the prison reform the stress is made on the reduction of poverty and facilitation of the access to justice.
The important principle of the new approach is that the criminal justice plays but a restricted role in any democratic society. It must not be used, for instance, for solving social problems. Prisons must be used by courts rather as an extreme measure of punishment, but not as one of the most frequently used measures.
The CIS was represented at the conference by participants from Armenia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Russia and Ukraine.
Donetsk ‘Memorial intends to publish the abridged reports of the conference and its final document as a booklet in June 1999.