What is the best way to support penal and prison reform? Can prison reform contribute to individual security? This paper from the Global Facilitation Network for Security Sector Reform (GFN-SSR) analyses the experiences of Penal Reform International (PRI), in supporting penal reform in Morocco and Algeria. It suggests that supporting prison reform requires both modesty and ambition.
PRI sees penal reform as a process of working to improve and enforce the rule of law in criminal justice systems by promoting and protecting human rights. Experience has shown that penal reform must include both training and material support and have the full commitment of government. Both Moroccan and Algerian prison systems have made progress during the last years. PRI’s work in Morocco consisted of training prison staff working with adults and especially with juveniles, planning, human rights standards and social work, material improvements for juvenile centres and capacity building for the prison staff training centre. In Algeria, PRI carried out training for prisons staff and magistrates on sentence implementation and facilitation of detainee rehabilitation. In Algeria, participation in the training programmes has demonstrated a change in attitude. There has been significant modernisation in the prison system and a review of the prison code is underway. However:
- There is a danger that governments will use penal reform initiatives to generate international funding and improve their image.
- For penal reform to be successful a genuine commitment from the government is needed.
- In both Algeria and Morocco, political changes created an opportunity for engagement.
- Although much progress has been made in Morocco, there is a need to develop alternatives to imprisonment.
- Global terrorist threats have lead to laws that have generated concerns from local Human Rights organisations.
Supporting prison reform requires both modesty and ambition. Ambition to see potential for change and modesty to accept that it is not the role of international Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) to substitute for government. Lessons emerging from experience are:
- Penal reform cannot be undertaken without the full support of government and the involvement of national NGOs and other civil society representatives.
- Linkages between the prison system and its social environment should not be occasional or exceptional but permanent and systematic.
- The role of international NGOs is to strengthen, orient and support governments rather than to substitute for them. Structure and behavioural changes take a long time.
- Prison cannot, and should not, be seen as the only way of dealing with delinquency, crime and criminal activity.
- It is important to recognise that material needs, for example prison repairs – are also important.
- As the success of rehabilitation actions depends on the general attitude towards prisoners, the importance of public information and awareness raising should not be neglected.