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Corrections (Including Incarceration)

OGP Justice Policy Series


The 2015 United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, known as the Nelson Mandela Rules, established global norms for the treatment of prisoners. Since the passage of the Rules, OGP countries have begun to address the issue of penitentiary openness through their two-year action plans. A cursory look through OGP data reveals that penitentiary institutions are increasingly involved in the OGP process, and perhaps more importantly, that governments are beginning to make concrete commitments focused on penitentiary reform. However, the next step is to move beyond a few isolated cases of reform.

Proposed Data

We are considering using the following data sets to benchmark OGP performance in this area. We would love your opinion on which ones are your favorites, why, and what is missing.

  • World Prison Brief: Collects data on prisons and prison populations, pre-trial detainees, female prisoners, foreign prisoners, juveniles, and capacity/occupancy levels.
  • World Justice Project (WJP): The WJP Rule of Law Index uses expert surveys to track the rights of prisoners, including overcrowding, access to health care, and abuse.
  • United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime: Collects data on prison populations, as well as on SDG 16.3.2 on unsentenced detainees.
  • Open Data Inventory: Tracks incarceration rate data on national statistical office sites.
  • Measures for Justice: Detailed criminal justice data collected in various US states.
  • Vera Institute of Justice: Incarceration Trends: Data visualization of US data.

Possible Issues and Reforms to Highlight

  1. Access to information about the penitentiary system
    1. Possible framework
      1. Information on prison living conditions
      2. Information on prisoners
      3. Information on prison management
    2. Possible cases
      1. Panama (2013): Published number of prison officials sanctioned for corruption, as well as how many officials were dismissed.
      2. Argentina (2015): New Corruption Prevention Service within the Federal Prison Service developed an anti-corruption action plan that calls for greater transparency.
  2. Prison monitoring and inspection
    1. Possible framework
      1. Monitoring by internal government agencies
      2. Monitoring by civil society organizations
    2. Possible cases
      1. Brazil: Community Councils must include representatives from industry, public defenders, social workers, etc. and visit prisons monthly.
      2. Kenya: Trains and mentors Prison Service officials to conduct audits.
      3. Australia: Western Australia Independent Prison Visitors provide prisoners with information, record complaints, and document visits.
      4. England / Wales: Requirement that monitors inspect prison incidents.
  3. Independent complaints mechanisms
    1. Possible cases
      1. Scotland: Prison Complaints Commissioner
      2. Canada: Correctional Investigator

OGP Commitments for Analysis

  • Paraguay (2018): Establish an information system on prison data
  • Scotland (2019): Involve CSOs in delivering health and social services to prison patients and develop more transparent reporting on patient outcomes
  • Argentina (2017): Publish the Argentina Penitentiary Auditor’s recommendations, report on progress made by prisons, and involve citizens in monitoring progress
  • Brazil (2016): Work with civil society to develop an information system with data on  prison inputs, documents, contracts, and criminal services
  • Italy (2016): Publish prison information sheets and digitize prison services

Further Questions

  • Which aspects of prison information should be prioritized for data collection and disclosure? Do certain datasets already exist? Which need to be built from scratch?
  • Does UNODC or other data organizations (at least informally) track data gaps across countries in their reporting?
  • Are there particular subtopics, such as private prisons, overcrowding, immigrant detention, and/or anti-corruption that deserve special attention through the open government lens?
  • What is the role of data privacy protections in the disclosure of data about detainees?
  • What are some examples of institutionalization of CSO prison monitoring? Are there examples of scalable models?


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