Friday: How do we ensure that the overall preventative system is efficient?

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Friday: How do we ensure that the overall preventative system is efficient?

The conversation leaders will focus on this discussion topic on Friday.

To help start the conversation and keep the focus of this discussion thread, please consider and respond to the following questions:

  • How do we ensure that the variety of monitoring bodies (universal, regional and national) and the overall preventive system is efficient?
  • What worked well? What didn’t work well?
  • What lessons have you learned? What challenges have you faced?
  • What resources have you found helpful related to this topic?

Share your experiences, thoughts, ideas and questions by adding a comment below or replying to existing comments!

For help on how to participate in this conversation, please check out these online instructions.

Mass incarceration in the U.S.

Hi there!

My name is Katie and I am a New Tactics intern based in MN, USA. I know this is a long post, but I feel it's important to provide a little context before opening up questions about the effectiveness of monitoring.

As Michelle Alexander outlines in her book "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness," U.S. government "get tough" policies and "colorblind" racism have essentially legalized discrimination against people of color in the criminal justice system. As a 2008 NY Times article states, the U.S. has <5% of the world population but nearly 25% of the world's prison population. Although African Americans and Latinos are considered "minorities" in the country, they are disproportionately represented inside detention centers. Of the 2.3 million imprisoned, almost 1 million are African American.[1] Blacks comprise 80 to 90 percent of all imprisoned drug offenders in seven different states, despite consistent levels of drug use across races and even heightened levels among whites.[2] The Children’s Defense Fund “America’s Cradle to Prison Pipeline” report highlights the disproportionate racial representation in U.S. penitentiaries and the destructive social situations into which young men of color are born: “a black boy born in 2001 has a 1 in 3 chance of going to prison in his lifetime; a Latino boy a 1 in 6 chance; and a White boy a 1 in 17 chance.”[3] Due to implicit biases, police targeting of impoverished communities of color (especially during the "War on Drugs") and harsh mandatory minimum sentences for racialized drugs such as crack cocaine (meanwhile being caught with powder cocaine, a majorly white upper-class drug, often leads to rehab and little to no prison time), people of color face legalized discrimination at nearly every level of the criminal justice system. Beyond discrimination, however, prisoners' human rights to due process, fair punishment, and education are violated, among others.

There is clearly a grave structural problem in the U.S. criminal justice system. For those interested, I highly recommend reading Michelle Alexander's book.

With respect to monitoring, there are organizations and individual activists doing work to monitor prisons and raise awareness about ongoing injustices inside prison walls. For example, the Correctional Association of New York's Prison Visiting Project and Women in Prison Project monitor prisons by visiting detention centers, conducting and publishing research, and advocating for policy reform to support inmates. In addition to physical monitoring, civilian activists attempt to monitor prisons from the outside. For example, the daughter of Black Panther leader and political prisoner Russell Maroon Shoatz is currently touring around the country with her father's book and promoting a campaign for citizen action that involves flooding the PA Department of Corrections with calls and faxes demanding justice for Shoatz. (To participate, merely follow these directions!)

In spite of these calls for action, however, mass incarceration continues to plague much of America. Although international human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have issued publications/demands for change about prison-related problems and human rights violations in the U.S., the devastating effects of mass incarceration of blacks and Latinos have gone unnoticed by many of those privileged enough to avoid the school-to-prison pipeline. Much of this ignorance/neglect is based in institutionalized racism and implicit prejudices about populations of color as criminals.

Considering the ingrained racial inequalities in American society, how can monitoring organizations make the wider U.S. (and international) population care about mass incarceration of people of color--namely black males? Do other conversation participants have similar experiences in their communities? How can monitoring activists attract international human rights organizations to their campaigns? Can monitoring prisons provide a pathway to structural change, and if so, how?

I look forward to reading the rest of this dialogue, and thanks for taking the time to read my post!

Katie Anastasi

New Tactics in Human Rights Intern

Macalester College 2015

[1] National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, “Criminal Justice Fact Sheet,” 2009-2013,

[2] Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, (New York: The New Press, 2010), 98.

[3] Children’s Defense Fund, “America’s Cradle to Prison Pipeline,” October 2007, p 37.


Efficiency of prevention

Dear all (future contributors)

I am Mari Amos from SPT.

Well, in practise the efficiency of any prevention work depends of the willingness of the society/state and other counterparts to change something. This could be connected either with overall mentality, resources, skills and knowledge, possible tools for enforcement etc.

Having NPM background, now in SPT but still working closely together with European NPMs I see that leaving aside the sometimes existing and occuring political resistance main key to guarantee the efficiency is to do it together with stakeholders. Monitors should not be like Zeus speaking from Olympos. Just the opposite - all actions suggested should be realistically achievable and good contextual advice should be given to addressees regarding the ways how to get there. Therefore efficiency of the prevention can be guaranteed if monitors have a clear vision themselves about the ways there.

The easiest and most commonly used excuse is lack of resurces of course - money, people etc. With innovative thinking this is easy to overcome. If monitor is able to present to the adressee first simple steps that could be taken in order to imporve the situation, the level of resistance will decrease.

Certainly it is for the monitors to keep constant check on activities taken or not on the basis of recommendations made. Follow-up is extremely important part of the work. But also this cannot be carried out from the repressive point of view. Critical friend apporach is the most beneficial one.

Mari Amos


What kinds of simple first steps have monitors suggested?

Thanks, Mari - this is practical advice! I am curious to know if you have any examples related to the 'lack of resources' excuse. What kinds of innovative actions have monitors suggested, and simple first steps? Do you have any examples (we don't need names, countries, etc) where resistance decreased after some simple first steps were identified?


- Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder

Inter-institutional cooperation

Dear all

It's Therese Rytter from DIGNITY.

I'd like to add another discussion point regarding how to promote the efficiency of the monitoring bodies, namely how inter-institutional cooperation can enhance impact.

In general, NPMs and civil society monitoring mechanisms are the bodies that are most deeply emerged in the detention context at the national level. While they may have a lot of expertise, regular access to places of detention and a thorough knowledge of the context and challenges, they may not (always) have the neccessary leverage to convince national authorities (prison govenors, Ministries of Justice, etc.) to take steps to prevent torture. In order to strengthen the efforts to prevent torture, it is therefore important that the national monitoring mechanisms build institutional relations with other bodies - both at the national, regional and international level - who share the agenda of preventing torture. 

  • At the national level such bodies may be human rights NGOs, associations of prisoners, National Human Rights Institutions and resarch institutions.
  • At the regional level, such bodies may be monitoring bodies, such as the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT), the African Special Rapporteur on Prisons and Conditions of Detention and the Inter-American Special Rapporteur on Persons Deprived of their Liberty.
  • At the international level, such institutions may be the Committee against Torture, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, the UN Human Rights Council (UPR procedure) and the International Committee of the Red Cross. See also OPCAT article 11 (c).  

In our experience, such a "spider web" of institutional relations strengthens the leverage of the local/ national monitoring body. Firstly, the findings and recommendations of the monitoring body may be picked up, endorsed and even promoted by other institutions and thus receive greater visibility and potential impact. Secondly, the recommendations may gain wider and greater "recognition" because they are also being pronounced by institutions, which have a lot of leverage. This is for instance the case in the NPM-SPT relationship, where the SPT is often perceived as the "big brother". This may also be the case when independent research of credible research institutions confirm the findings of monitoring bodies. 

The question of who makes the recommendations has particular significance in those countries or areas where there is a lack of political will to undertake reforms to prevent torture.

Best, Therese

challenges regarding effectiveness of follow up strategies

Dear all,

I am a member of the Austrian NPM and of the APT Board, and would like to share the following thoughts with you:

One of the main challenges regarding effectiveness and efficiency is how monitors develop adequate follow-up strategies in order to have their recommendations implemented. This is obviously a crucial issue in the whole monitoring process, and, despite of its importance, it seems not yet to be adequately addressed, neither by academic research nor by monitoring actors. Put differently: we know quite well how to carry out monitoring visits, how to do fact finding, which standards to apply (at least in the classical fields of police and prisons), how to write good reports and formulate smart recommendations; there are a lot of useful tools and guides on this, in particular from APT.

But what we do not have yet is a “theory of change”, some more thoughtful and analytical approaches as to the conditions for change/reform that we want and recommend. This, I think, would require much more systematic and systemic thinking , including a sober analysis of power structures that determine the fate of our recommendations. It would also include an identification of the array of stakeholders with more or less power to effect change (“power promoters”) and a systematic engagement with them.

I think we need to pay more attention to this issue and develop tools to this end; with the help of social science which is still underused in detention monitoring.

 Best regards





From APT experience for the overall preventive system to be efficient there is a need to create a "culture of prevention". This means that relevant actors have the knowledge, capacity and the will to prevent torture and ill-treatment (as Mari Amos from the SPT already mentioned).

As Therese from Dignity raised, preventing torture requires the active involvement of many actors. The Optional Protocol to the UN Convention Against Torture (OPCAT) establishes a tri-partie relation between national preventive mechanisms (NPMs), governments of the States parties and the Sub-Committee for the Prevention of Torture (SPT). This calls for further collaboration with other actors such as civil society, the judiciary, parliamentarians, the media, etc.

Please visit APT website to read an overview of the key actors who together can create a "culture of prevention" at the national level at

It would be great to hear concrete examples from practitioners at the country level about how you have collaborated with other actors including for example when following up with recommendations.  Best Tanya



Miha Horvat, Slovenian NPM (Republic of Slovenia)

I think Mari already outlined key aspects of effective prevention on a general level quite good, and agree with them. I myself would like to add the following.

The most basic prerequisite for maximizing preventive work is one’s reputation. This has to be built through consistent quality work and as much of its beneficial results - for all parties involved - as possible. This usually results in correct/(relatively) good relations between the monitor and the authorities, which is a very potent factor in maximizing the effects of prevention.    

Monitor has to be seen, first and foremost, as an ‘informal authority’ in the eyes of authorities. It has to make them listen - not because they ‘have to’ but because they want to – i.e. so they are actually hearing, not just listening. Instead of heavily relying on, or referring to, explicit legal duties on the part of the authorities, try by appealing to benefits of past and/or still-lasting monitoring achievements that brought improvements, highlight certain good (or better) practices in other places of detention of the same kind, etc.

Even though you are there to make things better for persons deprived of their liberty, do not have just their perspective in mind; before making a ‘preventive recommendation’ regarding treatment and the conditions of the persons deprived of their liberty, take into consideration – and be objective at it – what it means from the personnel’s point of view, and then form the recommendation in such a way that it will point in some way to the advantages of it for them too. In other words, if possible, try to present it in a way that at least somehow indicates that it is in best interest for them (too) to adhere to it. Also, as Mari already pointed out, make sure your recommendations are as realistic as possible, otherwise they can do more damage than good – they can trigger the these-guys-from-cushy-offices-obviously-have-no-idea-what-it-is-like-in-the-real-world attitude and consequently diminish cooperation, as you will be taken less seriously. Also make sure your recommendations balanced and fair - don’t simply always ‘take side’ of persons deprived of their liberty just because they are persons deprived of liberty.

Furthermore, why not ask also the personnel, if or where they see any possible ways of improvement of the conditions, working methods, etc.? This is a way to make the best of both worlds; presenting (sensible) such personnel’s suggestions in form of recommendation for improving treatment and the conditions of the persons deprived of their liberty, can in the end benefit the latter, and also gives the former the feeling they are being listened to – which will increase the chances of them cooperating in the future.

It is very beneficial to the monitor and its preventive work, if/when relevant authorities (one by one – hopefully) develop realization that the monitor’s recommendations can bring (in)direct improvements for them also. E.g. some of Slovenian prisons did not have a roof over at least a small part of their courtyards (problems with open air exercise in cases of bad weather or scorching sun) and even though they kept including that construction in their plans, they never got the proper resources for it, as it was not deemed to be high enough on the priority list. Even though we expected to get the same lack-of-resources excuse from the ministry, the Slovenian NPM nevertheless took advantage of every opportunity (in our reports to the ministry on visits of these places of detention, in our annual reports, at meetings…) to point out this problem (presented as questionable conditions for detainees/convicts) and kept recommending the construction. When it finally happened, it was one factor more in realization, that the NPM is not just an annoyance, but that our activities can also contribute to something for the prison as such – and therefore for persons deprived of liberty there, as well as the personnel (correctional officers have to be in the courtyard too!).

Make good and prudent use of available references - and be tactful at it. When appropriate, point out relevant standpoints of bodies such as the CPT, SPT, ECHR, and so on. ‘International element’ gives additional weight to your argument(s), as a ‘higher authority’. Again, (at least at first) try not to raise these ‘analogies’ all ‘high and mighty’, mention it in passing, it is usually enough for the authority to take special notice to what you have to say and give the (correct) impression that you know very well what you are talking about; also, do not rub your possible successes at ‘higher authority’ in their face (“See, we told you, but you didn’t listen”) - to give a concrete example, in cases of MANDIĆ AND JOVIĆ v. SLOVENIA the ECHR found violation of Article 3 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, in regards to the Ljubljana Prison, after taking into consideration also certain parts of reports by the Slovenian Human Rights Ombudsman in its capacity as a NPM; in such case(s), when visiting the place of detention next time, don’t be arrogant about it, commend possible improvements that followed, etc. We got similar ‘affirmation’ of our previous recommendations regarding this prison after visit of the CPT in 2012 in Slovenia and the subsequent change of the regime for the detainees, and it’s critique of conditions there. Situations like this give validation to the monitor’s work and should contribute to increasing it’s preventive effect, so don’t forget to make a ‘friendly reminder’ about them, when appropriate.  

One of the more obvious methods for trying to improve effects of prevention work are follow-up visits; this is quite self-explanatory, they mean more presence of the monitor at the place of detention, and should normally increase the preventive effect, especially if they are unannounced and thoroughly carried out.

Another quite effective way of increasing the chances of the preventive effect, in our practice, turned out to be questionnaires for the social care institutions (with departments where persons can not leave on their free will – dementia, etc.); these questionnaires were made on the basis of our experiences regarding burning issues and our recommendations regarding them (33 questions) and were sent out to all the social care institutions planned for our visit that year, together with notice for the director, that the NPM will visit this institution at some point this year, and that we expect his/her reply to our questionnaire in 30 days - this way, the directors (for the most part) familiarized themselves in advance with who we are and what we do; through the questions of the questionnaire they checked the conditions by themselves; made improvements and perhaps learned and took care of certain aspects they never thought about before – all the while not knowing when exactly when the NPM will visit, yet that it will indeed visit the institution that year. That way it is more probably that the authority maintains ‘acceptable’ conditions and treatment, and after a while even perhaps starts to perceive these standards as ‘normal’ and demands them from the staff. All this before the monitor even visits the place!   

I am of course well aware, that the above mentioned methods are not blueprint for every monitor worldwide to do the best in every case. There are situations when it would make the most sense for one to play hardball from the get-go (e. g. obvious cases of torture,…) and not lose unnecessarily precious time with softer approaches. But as far as general direction of the preventive work goes, this is the way to go, given our experiences thus far. 

How to ensure change

Dear All

Walter Suntinger is making a very important point, which lies at the core of making preventive detention monitoring effective, namely how do we ensure that our recommendations are actually being implemented.
When addressing this crucial question I think that we can find some guidance in the preamble to OPCAT, which calls for wider "educational and a combination of legislative, administrative, judicial and other measures".

In my experience, recommendations following our detention monitoring cannot stand alone. The constructive dialogue with the authorities is obviously a key path, but it is rarely sufficient, unless we talk about recommendations with a minor scope, which may be implemented right away by the prison govenor.

As regards the more far-reaching recommendations it is our experience that supplementary measures are necessary in order to convince authorities of the need and gains of implementing the recommendation in question. If, for instance, the recommendation concerns the need to undertake legislative reform, it will most often be necessary to engage with the relevant state institutions - i.e. the respective ministries and parliamentary committee - on how the amended legislative provisions could be formulated. It may also be necessary to generate some public awareness and pressure on the issue before the state is convinced of the need for reform.

In our experience, some of the most difficult recommendations to implement are also the most important ones when it comes to preventing torture. For instance, in some countries you will find that the prosecution does not have sufficient powers over the police investigation. The prosecution can thus not fulfil its role as an institution that guarantees lawful investigation and that ensures that no evidence extracted under torture is presented in court. In this case, institutional reform is necessary (e.g. a transfer of the judicial police from one jurisdiction , eg MoI, to another jurisdiction,  eg MoJ). However, such a recommendation aims at changing the very power structures of the state. It is therefore likely that such recommendation will meet serious resistance and it will probably not be implemented until an actual mentality change or even regime change takes place.

In addition to the above disctinction between "micro recommendations" and "macro recommendations", it should also be added that the type of society in which one is conducting monitoring will also determine the likelyhood of recommendations being implemented. In other words, the type of political regime and the presence or absence of political will to undertake reform in order to prevent torture will impact on whether - and to what extent - the recommendations of the monitoring bodies are translated into practice. In conclusion, it is therefore an excellent idea to develop tools that can guide us on how to enhance the implementation of our recommendations, and I would add that it is crucial that such tools are designed according to the tye of regime in which we intervene.

Best, Therese 

Thank you for participating in this conversation!

Thank you to all who participated in this conversation! This has been such an interesting discussion on monitoring prisons. I can't thank you enough for creating this rich exchange of ideas and experiences. I hope you are taking away new ideas, resources, reflections and allies!

I especially want to thank Tanya Norton and her colleagues at APT for helping us find this wonderful group of conversation leaders, and for facilitating this discussion!

We will begin the process of writing a summary of the comments posted here. It will most likely take a few weeks and once we're finished, we'll post the summary on the front page of this dialogue. For those of you that added comments, I'll notify you by email when the summary is posted.

The conversation leaders had committed to participate in this discussion for these past 5 days. Although their commitment has come to end, you can still add comments to this conversation until the summary is posted. So please feel free to continue to add your thoughts, reflections, resources and stories!

Thank you,

Kristin Antin - New Tactics Online Community Builder


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