COPCAT Shorts – Gender-Responsive Non-Custodial Measures Toolkit

Occasionally something really good just slips right by, leaving you wondering how you ever missed it in the first place? One would think that, battened down in the nation’s capital while waiting for life to jump-start, there would be precious little else to do than to keep up with current developments in the wonderful world of human rights law and criminal justice.

Alas, on this occasion it was the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the Thailand Institute of Justice (TIJ) to somehow fly so swiftly and stealthily low so as to successfully avoid the radar reflectors of Ontario.

Not to worry, published just a few short weeks ago via a high-profile webinar launch, UNODC and TIJ unleashed on the coronavirus-locked-down world a highly rated Toolkit on Gender-Responsive Non-Custodial Measures. While not the most flashily or zippily titled resource, it most certainly does what it says on the tin.

A deeper dive into this new publication reveals an abundance of useful advice and guidance on alternatives to prison at all trial stages. Its introduction offers a depressingly succinct summary of the toolkit’s overall purpose:

Women are the fastest growing prison population across the world. As further outlined in this toolkit, poverty, discrimination, violence and a punitive legal responses are some of the key underlying causes behind the increase in female imprisonment. The harmful and negative impact of imprisonment on women, their families and communities has been widely documented.

More hopefully, it continues:

Since the adoption of the United Nations Rules on the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-custodial Measures for Women Offenders (the Bangkok Rules), which complements the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules on Non-custodial Measures (the Tokyo Rules) and the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules on the Treatment of Prisoners (the Nelson Mandela Rules), there has been increased attention on gender-responsive treatment of women in prison. This toolkit seeks to provide support and guidance on taking steps to ensure that women in contact with the law are not detained or imprisoned unnecessarily and that detention is used as a measure of last resort. The starting point for this toolkit is to take the least interventionist approach possible, acknowledging that in certain situations contact with the criminal justice system can be harmful to women. (1)

The 90-page publication is accordingly divided into the following three primary sections:

  • Identifying the needs of women in contact with the law;
  • Ensuring gender equality in the use and application of non-custodial measures;
  • Special categories of women.

The second section is the most comprehensive part of the toolkit, focusing on the different trial and sentencing stages in any given criminal justice process, accentuating the availability of non-custodial measures at all such phases. In so doing, it closely examines an array of alternatives to detention such as bail, arrest and supervised release in the pre-trial stage, combined with non-custodial sentences such as fines, suspended sentences, deferred sentences, home detention, community treatment orders, and community service orders during the later sentencing instances.

More impressively still, UNODC and TIJ are currently hosting a series of webinars under the title ‘Gender-Responsive Criminal Justice and Prison Reform‘, which run until 24 June 2020. Please click on the link above or see the flyer below for more detailed information:

As the flyer itself states:

Criminal justice and prison systems face unprecedented challenges that are amplified by the COVID-19 global pandemic. In a system primarily designed for men, gender-responsive approaches are crucial to ensure no one is left behind. Sustained action is needed to address the disproportionate increase in the imprisonment of women, and the lack of gender-specific health care and social reintegration programmes in prisons.

Readers could do much worse than idle away a few well-spent hours in the company of these virtual and non-virtual resources.

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime are certainly no strangers to these pages, despite the organization’s somewhat deceptive moniker. The website has previously thrown a spotlight on its other first-class materials, including on the Nelson Mandela Rules and the importance of internal inspection of places of detention. In a word, UNODC continues to place into the public domain many excellent criminal justice-related materials with an invaluable human rights bent.

The Thailand Institute of Justice has similarly authored multiple first-class publications, not least the widely known and highly respected Global Prison Trends series, which it co-publishes with Penal Reform International.

If you were at a loss with what to do with yourself today, dear quarantined readers, then this short summary may have given you at least a couple of useful ideas. Apart from the endless house-work, full-time employment, and home-schooling your multiple children that is to say…

No matter, thank you for your visit. It will get better.

School Closed – Travis Wise (2020).

Download the publication, Toolkit on Gender-Responsive Non-Custodial Measures.

Find out more about TIJ and UNODC’s global webinar series on ‘Gender-Responsive Criminal Justice and Prison Reform‘.

Read the Executive Summary of Global Prison Trends 2020 and the full report.

View other recently published prison-related materials with a focus on women and deprivation of liberty.