Prison chiefs seek answers to problems plaguing penitentiary systems

Prison chiefs from around the world, including the US and Canada, are meeting in Windhoek, Namibia this week to discuss major challenges facing penitentiary services. The ICRC's President, Peter Maurer, who is taking part in the annual conference of the 

International Corrections and Prisons Association

, said that limited human and financial resources put a strain on detention facilities worldwide, taking a severe toll on the lives of millions of detainees. 

"We all know that detainees are – by the fact of their isolation – vulnerable, and it is our task and goal to protect them from arbitrary practices, persecution, and abuse," Maurer said in his speech to the gathering of around 500 prison authorities, experts, representatives of non-governmental agencies, and academics.

"Persons under interrogation, or accused of crimes against the State, those convicted to long-term or death sentences need our particular attention as humanitarian actors," added Maurer, who has visited many detention facilities across the globe.

"One observation I have made again and again in our contacts with penitentiary services across the world is that for most politicians and institutional politics, prisons are never a priority. Resources, in particular financial resources, are scarce for present needs as well as for planning and conceptual work. As a consequence, many of the challenges in detention can be traced back to a simple, yet fundamental failure to keep prisons and corrections in step with the modern world. This is reflected in outdated legislation, practices and buildings, which then result in anything from food shortage to overcrowding."

Read President Maurer's speech in-full

Read the October 29 news release about the conference

Did you know? The ICRC is mandated by the Geneva Conventions to visit Prisoners of War and people detained during armed conflicts. The essence of our work in any place of detention is humanitarian: we focus on detainees’ security, dignity, access to adequate food, sanitation, and medical care. We also try to ensure they can maintain contact with their families during their detainment. The ICRC's regional delegation in Washington DC is responsible for monitoring conditions of detention and helping to maintain family links between the detainees in Guantanamo Bay and their relatives.  On average, we conduct four visits to Guantanamo per year, along with ad hoc trips as needed. Learn more about the ICRC's enduring commitment at Guantanamo Bay here. See the first-ever images of the ICRC at-work inside Guantanamo here. In 2013, the ICRC visited more than 750,000 detainees worldwide and made more than 23,000 individual interviews with detainees. Forty per cent of the detention places we visited were in Africa.