Research & Publications

Guidance Notes on Prison Reform

The purpose of the Guidance Notes is to provide to potential funders and others interested in penal reform a set of basic documents that can be used to design and structure prison reform activities in any environment or culture. All the Guidance Notes:

  • Are set within the international human rights framework
  • Apply in a variety of cultural and political environments
  • Propose solutions that are likely to be sustainable in different socio-economic situations and do not involve a significant increase in resources
  • Take account of the realities of prison management

The information contained in the Guidance Notes is based on the following principles:

  • Prisons which are managed according to human rights principles are an integral part of a justice system that maintains the rule of law.
  • To be successful and sustainable prison reform projects need political will, an administration able to deliver change and champions to support them.
  • Prison reform often starts from a specific trigger. This may be positive, such as a new government committed to human rights or the possibility of joining a regional body with human rights requirements. Sometimes it may be a response to a negative event such as the spread of disease, a scandal or a dramatic event in a prison.
  • Prison reform projects should be strategic and take account of the criminal justice, social and political context.
  • Some quick outcomes can give encouragement for longer term change.
  • The model of imprisonment being promoted should derive from the international human rights instruments rather than from a particular culture.
  • The credibility of those bringing the prison reform message should be high with the recipients.
  • Support from civil society and parliament is invaluable.

The Guidance Notes were originally published in 2005 and hard copies of the French, Spanish and Arabic versions can be ordered from the ICPS office. Alternatively, all versions of the Guidance Notes they can be downloaded free below.

List of Guidance Notes

  • Penal Reform Projects and Sustainable Change
  • Doing a Pre-Project Needs Assessment
  • Measuring and Evaluating Project Outcomes
  • Dealing with Prison Overcrowding
  • Pre-trial Detention
  • Bringing Prisons within the Rule of Law
  • Moving prisons to civilian control: demilitarisation
  • Prison staff and their training
  • Humanising the treatment of prisoners
  • Improving prison health care
  • External inspection monitoring and redressing grievances
  • Encouraging the involvement of civil society
  • Reforming Women's Prisons
  • Children in Prison
  • Developing Alternative Sentences
  • Foreign National Prisoners

Guidance Notes on Prison Reform (Chinese version)

Core Publications
Guidance Notes