Impotence of Being Earnest: Status of the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners in Europe and the United States


The Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners were approved with the most earnest of good intentions at the First United Nations Crime Congress in 1955, in an attempt to establish “what is generally accepted as being good principle and practice in the treatment of prisoners and the management of institutions.” In spite of their noble purpose, implementation of these rules has been somewhat of a disappointment. Europe has adopted the Standard Minimum Rules wholesale. The United States, by contrast, has declined to adopt a set of standards patterned after the Standard Minimum Rules, relying instead on pre-existing correctional standards bolstered by reforms resulting from prisoner civil rights litigation. This paper will review the status of the Standard Minimum Rules and, using Europe and the United States as examples, will demonstrate how these guidelines can be an important, and not an impotent, tool when implemented in connection with a domestic enforcement mechanism.


Human Rights Law

Date of this Version

August 2006