New York

07 October 2015

Statement attributable to the Spokesman for the Secretary-General on prisoners in the United States of America

The Secretary-General welcomes the decision by the United States Government to release approximately 6,000 prisoners from federal prisons to ease prison overcrowding and provide a degree of redress for persons who received disproportionately long sentences for non-violent drug-related offences. He also welcomes proposals that aim to consider early release of additional prisoners who are serving sentences disproportionate to their crimes, many of which are drug-related.

The Secretary-General notes that States should only apply deprivation of liberty as a measure of last resort and only after alternatives have been duly considered. Over-incarceration constitutes one of the major underlying causes of overcrowding, which results in conditions that can often amount to ill-treatment or even torture.

In order to address over-incarceration and overcrowding and their human rights implications, some States should develop and implement alternatives to custodial measures, and review penal policies and legislation to ensure proportionate sentencing. Consideration needs to be given to alternatives to criminalization and incarceration of people who use drugs, with an increased focus on public health, prevention, treatment and care.