PRESS RELEASE: Washington Department of Corrections, U.S. State Department Help Successful United Nations Push to Update Antiquated Standards for Treatment of Prisoners
Released May 22, 2015
U.S. Department of State Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs and Washington Department of Corrections
With key players from the Washington, Colorado, and United States governments present, on May 22 in Vienna the UN Crime Commission — under the leadership of South Africa and with the support of Canada, Poland, Uruguay, the United States, and 50+ co-sponsoring nations – successfully adopted the first update in 60 years of the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (SMRs). These international standards, which will guide nations’ practices around the world, are now known as the “Mandela Rules” in honor of the late South African president and civil rights hero, who spent many years confined to Robben Island prison.
From May 18-22, Bernie Warner, Secretary of the Washington State Department of Corrections, joined Director Rick Raemisch of the Colorado Department of Corrections and the United States Head of Delegation, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Luis E. Arreaga at the 24th session of the United Nations Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice. The adoption of the new SMRs at this UN session was the capstone to a process that began in 2012 to review and update these important standards. The new global standards are based on the latest advances in correctional science and international good practices in criminal justice, including limiting the use of "solitary confinement" and protecting vulnerable groups — areas in which Washington State has made significant and substantial advancements. In addition to participation in the general session, Secretary Warner participated in a panel discussion on Washington State’s use of limited restrictive housing, gender responsivity and offender reentry reforms.
The Washington State Department of Corrections has focused its practices on providing an evidence-based continuum of care, which emphasizes preparing offenders for successful reentry from their first contact with the state correctional system. These efforts center on managing offenders based on risk-level, treatment needs, and offender development through skill-building and workforce training.The department works toward encouraging offender behavioral change and reserves restrictive housing only for those who cannot be safely managed in the general population.
While not legally binding, the SMRs provide minimally acceptable standards and practical guidelines for correctional professionals regarding the treatment of individuals held in prisons and correctional facilities. The United States uses the SMRs as a baseline document in delivering corrections-related technical assistance and capacity building to partner countries. The United Nations frequently draws upon experts from U.S. correctional systems which regularly implement the SMRs in their daily operations to train and mentor foreign partners as part of U.S. assistance programs.
The State Department is available to speak to press regarding this program and the role of Washington and Colorado officials. For more information or to request such an interview please email INL-PAPD@state.gov or call 202-634-1167. You can also follow INL on Facebook at Facebook.com/StateINL and Twitter via @StateINL.