Pretrial Detention: Abuses and Alternatives

Over three thousand criminal justice experts arrived today in Salvador, Brazil, for the 12th United Nations Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice. As delegates gather, more than three million people across the globe are sitting in pretrial detention.

Government delegations will discuss ways to improve the effectiveness of their criminal justice systems this week, ending with the adoption of a “Salvador Declaration” documenting the resolutions of the congress. Yet beyond the comfort zone of the Congress Center, how will delegates put these commitments into practice and address the corrupt systems and overcrowded facilities that are the reality in many countries around the world?

Over the course of 2010, more than ten million people will have been detained in police or remand custody. Many will spend months—or even years—without appearing before a judge, languishing under worse conditions than sentenced prisoners. In Brazil—the host country—nearly fifty percent of people in prison have actually not yet been tried, and research suggests that one in every five detainees here is detained illegally.

The Global Campaign for Pretrial Justice—spearheaded by the Open Society Justice Initiative—proposes a three-pronged approach focusing on early access to legal assistance, effective alternatives to pretrial detention, and open and transparent justice systems.

The Global Campaign team is in Salvador to ensure that these issues remain high on the agenda. We are organizing meetings to highlight the damaging consequences of arbitrary pretrial detention and to spotlight promising solutions, ranging from paralegal initiatives to pretrial services programs.

Watch this blog for updated reports from the congress, including perspectives from partner organizations working in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

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Your comments and focus on pre trail detention impact and related issues and approaches to reduce the phenomeno is great. Keep this update alive and the various comments streaming in seamlessly.

Dear Jedidah - Thanks for your comment! The excessive and arbitrary use of pretrial detention is clearly a critical issue in so many countries. We are excited about the work you are doing at the Legal Resources Foundation in Kenya. With a prison population that is 300% over official capacity and where 40% of the detainees are still awaiting trial you certainly face many challenges. Keep up the good work! Kersty.

Jedidah could you contact me regarding a trade development programme open to Chevening Alumni in Kenya. Please see the leadergen website for more details

Hallo Kertsy,

Yesterdays session on the Guidelines on Access to Legal Aid was very useful in respect to providing a long term place to secure both the paralegal approach in respect to legal aid, legal assistance and legal awareness.

However, there is need to secure the following in the guidelines review as we work towards having a convention on acccess to justice and legal aid.

The criminal justice is very week in using the principle of restorative justice that restores the accused person with both the victim and larger community. The use of restorative justice in both criminal and civil matters MUST adequately and effectively be build in these guidelines to facilitate peace, harmony and reduce recidivism.

Further, the proposal to use 'informal justice system' is an important move in recognising indeginous justice systems in many communities. However, the use of the word 'informal' is NOT politically correct because it presupposes an asumption of one system being superior and recognised to the other. Yet, the formalness or none formalness aspects depend on what position one is standing. Many communities who practice community justice consider this justice system as 'formal' NOT informal. Therefore we must use politically correct and positive wording. We can use the words 'community justice system'.

Legal Resources Foundation is already utilizing Community Justice Systems in Kipkeleon Constituency in Kenya with great results of build peace, reconstrruction, victim protection and reducing on repeat offences. This facilitative role is spearheaded by Community Paralegals to respond to issues that arose during the post election violence in Kenya in 2008.

We shall be having a reflection in June 2009 with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Kenya to explore how to utilize and develop more pilots in other areas that use community justice to resolve disputes like in Kibera, Nairobi or Lodwar, Rift Valley all in Kenya. There is potential here for managing crime, criminality and cases.

Can we think of amending related laws in various countries to the effect that all first-time offenders (except those alleged of committing an offence punishable with life imprisonment or death-penalty or of an offence under the Narcotic Drugs & Psychotropic Substances Act or of willfully jumping a bail order) shall be given a community-based trial instead of a custody-based trial, by granting them bail with or without sureties. This will drastically reduce prison population without having much adverse impact on the crime situation in the society. This will also mitigate rampant corruption related with unnecessary detentions and judicial remands. It will be a great respite to millions of people who spend years in the prison under subhuman conditions during unreasonably protacted trials, particularly those who are ultimately found not-guilty. The amendment in law may take a suitable shape in different countries according to the socio-political or crime situation in that country. But the condition of prisons and overcrowding of pretrial detainees world over, does warrant such amendment.

Dear Kersty,

It's a great relief for me to know that there are persons doing something to improve our "Legal" procedures.

I have a question, a close friend of mine has been in prison in Mexico for 3 years now, he is inocent and he hasn't been judged. As you can imagine he is in a deep depression state and we don't know what to do to try and help him...

Do you have any advise for us (his friends)?? can we do something? is there an organisation that could help us?
We are desperate and unable to help...

thanks in advance,


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