A weak justice system often keeps incarcerated inmates from rejoining the labor force. It silences the general population and neglects the humanitarian elements necessary for domestic development and free enterprise. The Republic of Uzbekistan is an underdeveloped country that has long felt these symptoms, due to its misaligned judicial system. However, in December 2020, President Mirziyoyev stated his openness in establishing “a system of quarterly monitoring visits to pre-trial detention centers and penitentiary institutions with the participation of representatives of the public.” The President desires to improve the efficiency and humanitarian aspects of Uzbekistan’s judicial system, in hopes of enhancing “the image of our country in the international arena.” Penal Reform International helps Uzbekistan achieve this vision. It has paired up with the United Nations Democracy Fund to help improve Uzbekistan’s judicial system so that the country might prosper in the future.

Penal Reform International’s Action Strategy in Uzbekistan

Penal Reform International is a non-governmental organization that works to augment judicial systems in underdeveloped countries. As such, it strategizes the reforms necessary to render just sentences, access to government institutions and the overall fulfillment of the tenets of international law.

The organization helps Uzbekistan through its vision to, “consolidate the creative potential of society for the implementation of a course of large-scale reforms for the accelerated development of the state, its democratic institutions and economy, the formation of conditions for a dignified and prosperous life of citizens, the effective implementation of their personal, political, social and economic rights, freedoms and legitimate interests,” as stated in the report.

To work towards this vision the organization has teamed up with the Commissioner of the Ombudsman of the Republic of Uzbekistan. Together, Penal Reform International and the Ombudsman work on implementing judicial accountability, monitoring prisons, working to strengthen the appeals court and lessening harsh sentences.

Supporting the Ombudsman

Uzbekistan’s Human Rights Commissioner, known as the Ombudsman, is integral to prison and judicial reform. The Commissioner identifies, for the President and Parliament, governmental and judicial “deficiencies” to pave the way for the establishment of key reforms. Penal Reform International helps Uzbekistan by supporting the Ombudsman, which has led to the formation of “an expert group” meant to assist the Commissioner of the Ombudsman with torture prevention measures, “and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

The expert group monitors “the conditions of detention of the detainees, the procedure for treating them, the quality of the provision of medical services and the organization of meals,” the Penal Reform International reported. The group also organizes work and educational activities within penitentiaries so that inmates can both remain productive and refine their trades.

As a result of Penal Reform International’s support for the Ombudsman, the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan restructured the Pardon Commission, a program involved in reducing sentences or releasing inmates on reasonable grounds. Implemented by the President, this restructuring allows the Ombudsman to take on a permanent role in pardoning inmates. Another result of its support is the reform of Uzbekistan’s Criminal Procedure Code, which “Article 951 ‘Inadmissibility of evidence” supplemented.

The newly ratified Article establishes strict legal proceedings for the judicial system during court trials, and states that “factual data is recognized as inadmissible evidence if it is obtained by illegal methods or by depriving or limiting the rights of participants in criminal proceedings.” Because of Penal Reform International’s work with the Office of the Ombudsman, Uzbekistan passed numerous reforms necessary for future equity and the consequent alleviation of poverty and human rights abuses.

Penal Reform International’s Success

As Penal Reform International reported, 6,467 convicts were released on parole, due to thorough judicial examinations. Further, 32,032 inmates received more mild punishments, upholding an important facet of democratic governance.

As a product of their work with the Ombudsman, 28,929 inmates received a transfer from prisons to colonies-settlements (more humane living spaces). Lastly, Penal Reform International has helped evolve the institutional law system within Uzbekistan by increasing the qualifications needed to take the bar examination and practice law. As a result, Penal Reform International has augmented the quality of Uzbekistan’s judicial system. Because of Penal Reform International’s work, Uzbekistan might better prosper in the future and become a key ally within the international community.

– Jacob Crosley
Photo: Flickr

Penal Reform International in Rwanda
In response to the 1994 genocide, Rwanda incarcerated up to 125,000 Rwandans (most of them Hutus) in facilities meant to hold 12,000 prisoners. Since the prison system could not sustain such a high number of inmates, it reestablished the traditional Gacaca courts for the sake of efficiency. However, the Gacaca Courts fell under international scrutiny for their failure to provide fair trials for the accused; the poor conditions at detention centers; and the election of poorly trained community judges, which held heavy prejudice against the accused. Penal Reform International, a nonprofit organization that works toward prison reform on the global stage, attempted to help Rwandan courts and prisons develop a more humanitarian legal process with respect for the tenets of international law. Below is information on Penal Reform International in Rwanda and how it has positively affected the country’s civil courts.

What is Penal Reform International?

Established in 1989 as an international nongovernmental organization, Penal Reform International’s mission is “to [reduce] the use of imprisonment around the world, through promoting alternatives to imprisonment, and to developing and promoting the implementation of international human rights standards on criminal justice and prison conditions.” It also uses paralegals – legal advisors – for those who have experienced incarceration and are awaiting trial with the goal of educating them on their rights within the country’s legal system.

Penal Reform International’s paralegals receive training in “international human rights instruments; National criminal law and procedure (including the Constitution and the Penal Code); The judiciary and the court systems; Prison conditions, systems and infrastructure; Health and safety awareness.” In cases such as Rwanda, having expertise on legal rights amid overcrowded prisons is valuable and extremely beneficial to prison reform as well as for the implementation of prison standards in accordance with international law.

Reforming Rwanda’s Courts and Prisons Through Education

Penal Reform International’s mission revolves around using paralegals, which, thus far, have “[organized] and conducted awareness sessions for over 3,000 detainees awaiting trial,” specifically targeting groups that are vulnerable to the spread of diseases within these prisons and informing them of their rights within Rwanda’s legal system. Penal Reform International in Rwanda has also “distributed 7,300 booklets on the rights of detainees in all Rwandan prisons,” which, in effect, not only educates the inmates of their rights but also advocates for more humanitarian methods within the Gacaca courts. As such, both the inmates and the judges in office are now more aware of the legal standards that international law demands.

The organization’s use of legal education as an instrument for court reform has been beneficial as it has reduced “unlawful and pre-trial detention,” and allowed for better-informed pleas, quicker file management and the overall improvement of communication from actors within the criminal justice system. As a result of Penal Reform International’s mission, the Rwandan courts have been able to lawfully issue court summons for 1,055 citizens using proper adjudicating techniques, obtain 1,100 court judgments for the purpose of constructing an able defense for appealing inmates and successfully lodge 455 appeals.

Stopping Overincarceration

Overcrowded prisons violate numerous human rights laws, confining inmates to dangerous living conditions which are unsanitary, leading to diseases and starvation. Nevertheless, Penal Reform International has helped release many Rwandans from these conditions. In just a year, from October 2009-2010, it assisted in “the permanent release of 625 detainees” along with deriving 168 provisional releases. In 2010, due to organizations like Penal Reform International, Rwanda’s prison population decreased to 43,400, a significant change from its earlier population of 125,000 inmates. Penal Reform International accomplished all of this by improving prisoners’ abilities to represent themselves in court and educating them on their rights. Ultimately, through this work, Penal Reform International’s mission has helped solve many of the problems stemming from over-incarceration in Rwanda.

Due to organizations like Penal Reform International in Rwanda, the absence of humanitarian legal values in underdeveloped countries has evolved to a system that is international judicial bodies both accept and praise. As Penal Reform International’s mission continues to thrive, so will underdeveloped countries around the globe.

– Jacob Crosley
Photo: Flickr

The Connection Between Prison and Poverty
In many societies around the world, mass incarceration is rampant and disproportionately affects those living in poverty. In 2013, reports determined that more than 10 million impoverished people have undergone incarceration. This has led to a dampening of upward social mobility because even after prison convicts face the stigma of being a former felon, individuals who believed that their best option to rise from poverty was a life of crime will likely return to a community where their best survival option is criminal. A connection between prison and poverty emerges in developing countries where cyclical policies keep people at the bottom of the social hierarchy with no way out.

The Connection Between Prison and Poverty

Former U.N. Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights Philip Alston studied this prison-poverty connection. In 2018, he released his findings in a report that documented how overly harsh government policy can have a pronounced effect on impoverished offenders. Alston notes, “so-called fines and fees are piled up so that low-level infractions become immensely burdensome, a process that affects only the poorest members of society, who pay the vast majority of such penalties.” If someone fails to pay their debts, the government will often place restrictions on their driver’s license, making recidivism far more likely.

Pre-Trial Detention in Brazil

Brazil ranks as the country with the third-highest rate of incarceration, behind China and the U.S. Its prison population rises above 755,000. Like the United States, the developing country engages in pre-trial detention. Pretrial detention is the act of holding a person suspected of a crime without rights until a court date. However, poor people often stay in detention facilities longer than the wealthy. This is because they cannot afford the exorbitant cash bail that the wealthy can. A 2010 study found that hundreds stayed in jail several years past their planned release. Additionally, “irregularities” lead to the mistaken detainment of over 16,000 Brazilians. Pretrial detention inmates currently overcrowd Brazil’s prisons, which make up nearly a third of the inmate population.

The War on Drugs in Thailand

With the number of people incarcerated at 344,161, Thailand ranks as number six in the world when it comes to mass incarceration. Similar to Brazil, the country has its own struggles with prison and poverty. An unexpected explanation for Thailand’s overcrowded prisons is the American War on Drugs. In 1997, a financial crash forced many Thai people into unemployment. This economic despair led to an increase in the number of drug users. In 2003, the government chose to heavily police these now-impoverished citizens. While Thailand has backed away from violent crackdowns, the majority of arrests are still primarily drug offenses. To evade time in prison, wealthier people can pay the $1,300 in drug charges. In 2016, only 27% of first-time offenders managed to avoid recidivism, as those in poverty could not afford bail.

Penal Reform International

While the connection between prison and poverty seems deep-rooted, it is still capable of transformation. Organizations have worked to alleviate the flaws of prison systems throughout the globe through educational, political and relief efforts to break the cycle. Penal Reform International is one such group.

Founded in 1989 with a focus on rehabilitation, Penal Reform International (PRI) works with the United Nations and other organizations to advocate for fair treatment of people in the criminal justice system. PRI observes detention centers and offers solutions to systemic abuse. For example, PRI studied the lives of the female offender population in the country of Georgia. The report found that they detained over a third for non-violent drug offenses. About 40% of those questioned committed crimes for financial reasons, while 80% were also mothers. Among those who received a release from prison, more than half had trouble finding employment due to their record, while most never obtained any kind of rehabilitative assistance. Between 2016 and 2019, PRI created a project providing services to Georgian women prisoners. Services included legal aid, counseling, business grants and healthcare assistance. Respondents expressed that the project has greatly improved their mental wellbeing, preparedness and self-esteem.

Prison and poverty can intertwine when the prison system values money over people. Nevertheless, learning about these issues surrounding developing countries can shed light on the flaws in one’s own.

– Zachary Sherry
Photo: Flickr

Over-incarceration and Poverty
The era of mass incarceration, or as others call it, over-incarceration, is not solely an issue within the United States. Countries around the world are also experiencing a rise in incarceration rates. With the rise of global poverty comes the rise of imprisonment. Sadly, incarceration disproportionately affects people living in poverty. This system of retribution creates a conveyor belt of crime. When authorities arrest people living in poverty more often, it becomes more challenging for targeted individuals to provide for them and their families and secure a living income; as a result, many felons may resort to crime out of necessity. These factors contribute to the phenomenon many countries are experiencing including high rates of recidivism and the number of ex-felons that authorities re-arrest. This cycle of crime is continuing and many impoverished are behind bars; people must address the relationship between over-incarceration and poverty.

The Relationship Between Over-Incarceration and Poverty

The estimated number of prisoners worldwide was 10.35 million in 2018, but the number is most likely 11 million as there are a number of countries that have a difficult time collecting data. Eleven million may not seem like a lot compared to the over 7 billion people in the world, but that is only the number of people in prison and not the millions on probation who face difficulties surviving after prison. On top of that, a prison sentence is hardly an individual experience. When authorities arrest someone so they enter prison, it affects their family and often makes it more difficult to obtain a livable income. Men make up the majority of the prison population, and in countries where people see men as the breadwinners of the family, this puts stress on the family the men leave behind. Over-incarceration refers to not just the imprisonment of someone, but also the group of people their imprisonment affects.

Pre-Trial Detentions Across the World

Much of over-incarceration is due to the stigmatization of drug users and the incarceration of nonviolent drug offenders, as well as many countries, like the U.S., using pre-trial detention. Around 30 percent of prison populations have not received a conviction. Pre-trial detention is a major reason for why criminal justice affects the impoverished more than the wealthy. A lack of legal assistance and expensive bails lead people to enter pre-trial detention.

Many countries have attempted to find alternatives to pre-trial detention. In Bolivia, the government has implemented a limit on the length of pre-trial detention. Similarly, Egypt is currently attempting to pass a bill capping pretrial sentences at six months. Colombia has put an emphasis on expediting the low-level cases, to cut down the number of prisoners who have not obtained a conviction. There are efforts around the world focusing on criminal justice reform as a way to create a more equal system.

Over-Incarceration Reforms Worldwide

 To reduce the relationship between over-incarceration and poverty, many countries have looked to focus on rehabilitation, using social integration and training. In this way, prison helps ex-felons return to normal life and find employment. Behind the U.S. and China, Brazil has the third-largest prison population with over 690,000 prisoners. Seeing the mass incarceration levels, the Association for the Protection and Assistance to Convicts (APAC), opened its first prison in 1972. The APAC looks to rehabilitate the people that enter its prisons, referring to those inside as recovering people. A system such as the one the APAC created marks a change in consciousness towards criminal justice systems around the world. Instead of punishment, rehabilitation drives the system by helping the marginalized seamlessly transition into normal life. The APAC’s prisons allow its members freedom, giving them the keys to their own cells and privileges to wash their clothes, cook their own meals and study what they please. Nineteen countries around the world have begun to implement similar prisons.

Penal Reform International’s Work With Recidivism

As Penal Reform International states, “Criminal justice policies affect nearly every aspect of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including poverty, food security, human rights, health and well-being, education, social inclusion, gender equality, employment, environmental issues, human security, access to justice, inclusive political processes, and governance and the rule of law.” Penal Reform International conducts work worldwide to help promote fair criminal justice practices. Its focus is on promoting rehabilitation and fair treatment by preventing torture and ensuring a speedy and fair trial for alleged felons. The group works with intergovernmental organizations to provide more rights to offenders and victims, as well as assist policymakers, criminal justice authorities and civil society to help de-link the relationship between over-incarceration and poverty.

Jared Hynes
Photo: Flickr