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‘Conditions unsafe and inhumane’ — UN official calls for global prison reforms

Alice Edwards, the United Nations (UN) special rapporteur on torture, has urged countries to review prison management practices and policies to ensure compliance with human rights.

Edwards spoke on Friday while explaining the need to adapt to environmental challenges given the looming threat of future pandemics.

Central to the calls to promote prison reforms is a human rights argument — the premise on which many UN standards and norms have been developed.

However, countries with scarce human and financial resources often do not view this stance as a priority.

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“Far too many people are imprisoned, for too long, in severely overcrowded facilities,” Edwards said.

“The link between poverty and incarceration is clear – people from disadvantaged or marginalised communities are far more likely to be imprisoned than other socio-economic groups.

“Significant challenges facing prisons are found in some form in almost every country.

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“Prisons are under pressure from too many demands, insufficient resources and inadequate staffing, and as a result conditions are often unsafe and inhumane.”

The UN torture expert said many prisoners serve long sentences in deplorable conditions, with limited access to education or vocational skills.

She added that the widespread neglect of prisons and prisoners around the world has a significant social impact, exacerbating poverty and the likelihood of recidivism, and ultimately failing to keep the public safe.

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