New UN "Mandela Rules" on standards for prisoners

As a group long focused on the human rights abuses of American prisons, ADPSR welcomes the recent update of the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, which date back to 1955. The update to the rules were named for South African president and freedom fighter Nelson Mandela, who famously spent many years as a political prisoner himself and, among his other achievements, was an advocate for prisoners' rights.

The new rules give even greater strength to ADPSR's proposal that architects should not design spaces intended for prolonged solitary confinement. The new rules define "prolonged solitary confinement" as a condition where people are held within cells for 22 hours per day for more than 15 days. They also say solitary should be reserved for exceptional cases and used as a last resort. And, with respect to medical ethics, they also exclude medical professionals from having any role in imposing solitary confinement. Given common American penal practices, it is readily foreseeable that these rules will be violated if architects provide spaces for any form of solitary confinement. The currently proposed new ACA standards for "restrictive housing" (see item above) allow for stays greatly in excess of 15 days.

ACA is often held up as the best that American prisons have to offer and is taken as a step towards more humane conditions. After all, many U.S. states and individual facilities don't even meet ACA standards. Yet these highest national standards fail to meet the minimum international human rights rules -- rules designed for compliance by countries with far fewer resources and much less professional expertise than the United States. To learn more about the Mandela Rules, we recommend the introductory video and associated resources from Penal Reform International here .

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