Areas of Work

Women in Prison

Women in prison have different backgrounds, problems and needs from male prisoners. QUNO has worked on the rights of these women and their children since 2003 and participated in the drafting of the 2010 UN Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-custodial Measures for Women Offenders, known as the Bangkok Rules, which supplement the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.

Prior to the development of the Bangkok Rules, which provide international standards on the treatment of women offenders, QUNO worked with other Quaker bodies (the Quaker representatives to the UN Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, Quaker Peace & Social Witness of Britain Yearly Meeting (QPSW) and the Quaker Council on European Affairs) to produce detailed research on the specific problems faced by women in prison and pre-trial detention. These include:

  • over-incarceration of women, particularly for minor offences carrying mandatory prison sentences;
  • adverse impact of imprisonment on the children of imprisoned mothers, whether they reside in prison with their mothers or if they are separated from them;
  • inappropriate accommodation and sanitary facilities;
  • lack of appropriate staffing;
  • lack of female prison staff or staff with appropriate knowledge and skills to work with women;
  • lack of education and work programmes;
  • high proportion of women prisoners with a history of mental, physical or sexual abuse;
  • disproportionate representation of indigenous women, foreign nationals and women from minority groups in women's prisons.

QUNO works with a range of other organisations in this area, including with the World Health Organisation Europe Office's Health in Prisons Project to develop a background paper and declaration on Women's Health in Prison (published jointly in 2009 by WHO Europe and UNODC), and through making submissions to relevant UN human rights bodies.

Recent Timeline Events

August 2014

A new Human Rights and Refugees Representative at QUNO Geneva

In February, Rachel Brett who has been Representative, Human Rights and Refugees (HRR) at QUNO Geneva since 1993 announced her plan to retire.  After an international selection process, Laurel Townhead has been appointed to this position from 18 August; we extend a warm welcome to Laurel. Laurel obtained her Master's degree in International Human Rights Law from the University of Essex in 2003. She has experience, among other issues, of work on women in prison, children of prisoners, conscientious objection to military service and support to asylum seekers. She was at QUNO Geneva as HRR Programme Assistant and Project Assistant in 2005-7 and comes to us now from her position as Policy & Campaigns Manager at the UK NGO Women in Prison that she has held since 2008. Laurel has been an attender of Peckham Quaker Meeting in London for several years.

Rachel will continue to work with us part-time as Adviser, HRR during a significant transition period. Her outstanding work has improved the lives of many, changed attitudes, built understanding and led to new international agreements. Rachel has worked on the needs of child soldiers, women prisoners, conscientious objectors to military service, stateless people, and children of parents sentenced to death.

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May 2014

UN Commission on Crime Prevention & Criminal Justice: Side-event on the wider impacts of the death penalty

In May, QUNO attended the annual UN Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice (CCPCJ) in Vienna with other representatives from the Friends World Committee for Consultation (Quakers). At the CCPCJ, FWCC co-sponsored a side-event with Amnesty International and Penal Reform International on the wider impacts of the death penalty. Rachel Brett drew attention specifically to the children of parents who have been sentenced to the death penalty. 

At this event, QUNO screened a new video on children of parents sentenced to death, which was prepared with the Child Rights Connect Working Group on Children of Incarcerated Parents. We also launched a new publication, entitled Children of Parents Sentenced to the Death Penalty or Executed: Developments, Good Practices and Next Steps. 

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May 2014

Revision of the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners

The UN Standard Minimum Rules on the Treatment of Prisoners (SMRs) are the reference for national authorities on how prisoners should be treated. However, they were adopted in the 1950s and, though good, need updating. In our work, QUNO has identified a need for reviewing the SMRs, and supports the ongoing process for revision. Since the adoption of the SMRs, new standards relating to the treatment of prisoners have been developed, including relevant human rights treaties. In 2010, the SMRs were supplemented by Rules specifically focussed on women prisoners (known as the Bangkok Rules) in whose development QUNO was involved. More recently, a process started to update the SMRs themselves.

The UN Commission on Crime Prevention & Criminal Justice (CCPCJ) has agreed to extend the mandate to revise the Standard Minimum Rules (SMRs) for the Treatment of Prisoners (SMR). The CCPCJ maintained the commitment that any changes must not lower existing standards. An expert meeting will be convened, probably in the Autumn, to continue to revise the SMRs, with the involvement of non-governmental organizations, like the Friends World Committee for Consultation (FWCC). 

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