International Penal and Penitentiary Commission and Prison Reforms | Essay

Thereafter, in 1949 the United Nations convened a meeting of the group of experts to consider the problem of crime prevention and to frame standard minimum rules for this purpose. Consequently, a draft of standard minimum rules for the treatment of prisoners was submitted by the First Congress on Prevention of Crime and Treatment of Offenders, UNO. Geneva in 1955.

Modern prison reforms of most of the countries are mainly based on these standard minimum rules. The rules sought to eliminate undue torture and suffering to prisoners and narrowing down the gap between the prison life and the free-life. There was greater emphasis on rehabilitation of the prisoner and training him for his return to normal life in society. The prisoners were to be humanly treated and not brutally punished.

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The General Assembly of United Nations passed a resolution in Geneva Congress in 1955 providing for convening every five years, a World Congress on Prevention of Crime and Treatment of offenders. Consequently, the Congresses are held every five years as follows:—

1. The First Congress (Geneva, Switzerland), 1955.

2. The Second Congress (London, U.K.) 1960.

3. The Third Congress (Stockholm, Sweden), 1965.

4. The Fourth Congress (Kyota, Japan), 1970.

5. The Fifth Congress (Geneva, Switzerland), 1975.

6. The Sixth Congress (Caracas, Venezuela) 1980.

7. The Seventh Congress (Milan, Italy), 1985.

8. The Eighth Congress (Havana, Latin America), 1990.

9. The Ninth Congress (Cairo, Egypt), 1995.

10. The Tenth Congress (Vienna, Austria), 2000.

11. The Eleventh Congress (Bangkok, Thailand), 2005.

12. The Twelfth Congress (Salvador, Brazil), 2010.

The objectives of the Congresses on Prevention of Crime and Treatment of offenders are to work out evaluative methodologies for correctional services and treatment of offenders.

Deeply impressed by the recommendations of U.N. Congress on crime prevention, many member countries modified their prison rules with a view to mitigating the rigours of prison life. These changes were directed towards reforming the delinquents and preventing their relapse into crime.

The prisoners were to be kept engaged in work suitable to their health and physique and were to receive wages for their labour. They were not to be subjected to unnecessary humiliation but were to be helped in readapting themselves to social life after their release.

Commenting on the ideals laid down for an efficient prison system, the Attorney-General of United States once observed that in fact an ideal prison is an impossibility. The Third International Conference held in Rome in 1955 recommended that work in industrial establishments without confinement is an effective alternative for imprisonment and admonition of offenders.

It also serves the purpose of adequate punishment in cases of minor offences. During the preceding thirty five years, a number of conferences and seminars have been organised under the auspices of United Nations for the prevention of crime and treatment of offenders which have yielded positive results.

An overall assessment of the working of the Standard Minimum Rules was made in the Fifth United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders held in Geneva in 1975. It was found that not a single country had honestly claimed to have fulfilled these basic requirements.

Only sixty-two countries, which comprised less than half the total member nations replied to an enquiry on this matter and most of them expressed practical difficulties in adopting the rules due to financial constraints, lack of qualified staff and shortage of accommodation.

There has been a suggestion that offender should be compelled to pay reparation to the victim of his crime and this should also include the court-costs incurred by the latter. But the success of this proposal is seriously doubted because reparation may be an adequate relief in civil matters but not in criminal cases.

The reason being that wealthy persons find it easy to secure their discharge by paying off the requisite amount of compensation. That apart, it would provide opportunities for fraud in raising fictitious claims of reparation. Other alternatives suggested as a substitute for imprisonment of offenders are suspending the civil rights such as the right of citizenship, employment, pension, housing etc. or compulsory work in industrial establishments.

The Columbian legal system, however, considers externment of the offender from his native place for a certain period of time as an adequate alternative for prison system. Norway and Sweden have introduced the system of open camps for prisoners. The Canadian prisoners are permitted to visit their ailing relatives and friends.

The prisoners in England can even be at the bed side of their dying relatives. The Japanese prison system considers parole as the most important characteristic of the progressive treatment system which aims at allowing prisoners to receive mitigated treatment and at the same time requires them to discharge their responsibility as a healthy minded citizen.