Prison overcrowding hinders peace process in post-conflict States – UN experts

15 September 2008 –

Ineffective judicial systems are leading to prison overcrowding in countries with United Nations peacekeeping operations and can obstruct these blue helmet missions, senior officials have told a Department of Peacekeeping (DPKO) meeting in New York.

Patricia O’Brien, Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs, said that the promotion of the rule of law at both the national and international levels was “at the very heart of the UN mission.”

“The work that you do as the heads of corrections and justice components of peacekeeping missions is at the sharp end and is absolutely key to the UN delivery of rule of law assistance to States,” said Ms. O’Brien at last week’s meeting in New York.

DPKO supports post-conflict States in their policing and corrections functions by offering assistance in reforming and managing prisons, preparing constitutional reforms, and creating processes to monitor and reconstruct legal systems.

The meeting heard that prison overcrowding in some countries was due to a combination of inadequate detention facilities and a judicial system lacking in courts, judges, prosecutors and defence counsellors.

Overcrowding in prisons is a consequence of ineffective legal structures in many countries with peacekeeping missions, where more than 90 per cent of prisoners are pre-trial detainees.

The National Penitentiary in Haiti, which was built to house 450 detainees but currently holds 3,800, and the lack of basic amenities in some prisons have led to detainees starving to death, were also used as examples of how some countries are seriously lacking in sufficient penal infrastructure.

“[This] undermines public confidence in the rebuilding efforts taking place in the justice sector. Without sustained, balanced support to all three pillars of the justice system – police, justice and corrections – sustainable peace in not achievable,” said the Assistant-Secretary-General of Rule of Law and Institutions, Dmitry Titov.


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