Because prisons tend to be closed to public scrutiny, the potential for abuse is always present. Consequently, there is a need for accountability and transparency in the way that prisons and prisoners are managed to ensure that human rights standards are maintained (and, where absent, are introduced). International human rights instruments call for the regular inspection of prisons by ‘a competent authority distinct from the authority directly in charge of the administration of the place of detention or imprisonment’ (The Body of Principles for the Protection of all Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment, Principle 29). Rule 55 of the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners states:
‘There shall be a regular inspection of penal institutions and services by qualified and experienced inspectors appointed by a competent authority. Their task shall be in particular to ensure that these institutions are administered in accordance with existing laws and regulations and with a view to bringing about the objectives of penal and correctional services.’
Independent inspections of detention facilities and continuous monitoring are vital in ensuring that standards are in accordance with national and international standards, and prisoners’ human rights are upheld.
Panopticon Consulting has set up monitoring mechanisms, provided training for monitors, and produced monitoring handbooks and checklists for monitors. Our work has focused on a number of key areas: