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Each year, approximately 15 million people throughout the world are in prison or are detained. Of this total, 10 million are incarcerated and five million are released back into the community. What takes place while they are in prisons has a tremendous impact on what happens to them, and to society, when they are released.

Correctional systems – including detention, imprisonment, probation, parole, and community supervision – are key to the health of criminal justice systems. Effective correction institutions contribute to public safety, stability of society, and legitimacy of government. Ineffective, corrupt, or inhumane systems can undermine public support for governmental authority, contribute to crime by enabling criminal organizations to continue conducting criminal activities and enterprises, or by failing to keep convicted prisoners in jail.

Corrections reform has become integral to the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs’ (INL’s) mission of providing criminal justice foreign assistance. INL helps nations improve sub-standard correctional systems to make them safe, secure, humane, and transparent. We also work to ensure they comply with international standards and norms, and contribute to the stability and security of the host nation, the United States, and the international community. INL does this by working with U.S. federal and state corrections agencies, the private sector, civil society, educational institutions, and multilateral organizations, such as the United Nations and Council of Europe, to:

  • Generate and deliver programs to assist nations with reforming sub-standard prison and correctional systems;
  • Provide technical assistance, training, and mentoring that strengthens corrections institutions around the world; and,
  • Engage in the development of global corrections standards and policies.

In addition, through the United Nations and alongside experts from the corrections field, academia, and civil society, INL has strengthened international standards for the treatment of prisoners worldwide. The original Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners were adopted by the United Nations in 1957 to provide a guide for creating meaningful and humane change in corrections institutions. The revised rules, known as “The Nelson Mandela Rules,” were adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on October 7, 2015. For several years prior to the UN adoption, INL led the United States in the international negotiations and diplomacy needed to reach agreement on these updated standards, which today provide universal guidance that underpins corrections reform around the world.

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future