Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners

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The Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners were most recently adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 17 December 2015 after a five-year revision process. They are known as the Mandela Rules in honor of the former South African political prisoner (and later president) Nelson Mandela.

The Rules were first adopted on 30 August 1955 by the United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, held at Geneva, and approved by the Economic and Social Council in resolutions of 31 July 1957 and 13 May 1977. The treatment of prisoners is also addressed in the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

Although not legally binding, the Minimum Standards provide guidelines for international and domestic law for citizens held in prisons and other forms of custody. The basic principle described in the standards is that "There shall be no discrimination on grounds of race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status".

Part I contains Rules of General Application. It contains standards which set out what is generally accepted as being good principle and practice in the treatment of prisoners and the management of penal institutions. Specifically, it covers issues related to minimum standards of accommodation (rules 12 to 17), personal hygiene (18), clothing and bedding (19 to 21), food (22), exercise (23), medical services (24 to 35), discipline and punishment (36 to 46), the use of instruments of restraint (47 to 49), complaints (54 to 57), contact with the outside world (58 to 63), the availability of books (64), religion (65 and 66), retention of prisoners' property (67), notification of death, illness, transfer (68 to 70), removal of prisoners (73), the quality and training of prison personnel (74 to 82), prison inspections (83 to 85).

Part II contains rules applicable to different categories of prisoners including those under sentence. It contains a number of guiding principles (rules 86 to 90). Rule 88 is key to the guiding principles and states: "The treatment of prisoners should emphasize not their exclusion from the community but their continuing part in it." Part II also covers the treatment (rehabilitation) of prisoners (91 and 92), classification and individualisation (93 and 94), privileges (95), work (96 to 103), education and recreation (104 and 105), social relations and after-care (106 to 108).

Part II also contains rules for prisoners under arrest or awaiting trial (generally referred to as remand), rules for civil prisoners (for countries where local law permits imprisonment for debt, or by order of a court for any other non-criminal process) and rules for persons arrested or detained without charge.

There is also a set of standards referred to as the "Handbook on prisoners with special needs"[1] published in 2009 by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.


  1. ^ Handbook on personers with special needs

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