After more than 50 years, the U.N. Standard Minimum Rules (SMRs) for the Treatment of Prisoners (1) have been revised. (2) For the corrections community, this is a big deal and can help provide prisons around the world with a forum for needed discussion and funding from agencies like the Council of Europe, major foundations and increased foreign aid.
The History of the SMRs
In October 1870 in Cincinnati, a group of individuals interested in prison reform met and adopted 37 principles in the first meeting of the National Prison Association. As early as 1812, prison reformers met to work on removing children from adult prisons and similar prison-related issues, but the Cincinnati meeting was the beginning of a lasting national organization that eventually became the American Correctional Association. It also was the inspiration for the establishment of the International Penitentiary Commission (IPC), now called the International Penal and Penitentiary Commission, in 1872, which began to collect national prison statistics and make recommendations for prison reform in Europe. When the League of Nations was formed in 1919, the work of IPC was included in its mandate to promote the rule of law in the international community. In 1926, work by IPC on an early version of the SMRs began; the rules were revised in 1933 and "noted" by the League of Nations in 1934. When the U.N. was created in 1945, it incorporated crime prevention and standards of criminal justice into its policy-setting role. (3) In 1949, the rules were further updated by an Ad Hoc Committee of Experts.
The revised draft of the rules was presented to the U.N. just prior to the dissolution in 1951 of IPC and, in 1955, the First U.N. Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders adopted them. In 1957, the SMR for the Treatment of Offenders were approved by the Economic and Social Council of the U.N. (4) It is instructive to note that, in response to a 2011 U.N. questionnaire, nine nations indicated that their national penal legislation in whole or in part was based on the SMRs. (5) In addition, the SMRs form the base line for work carried out by the U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations, the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime and other international bodies helping nations in crisis rebuild their correctional systems. International prison-monitoring, nongovernmental organizations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, Amnesty International, Human...