Measuring the Bangkok Rules

This post is published prior to Human Rights Day (December 10) and after the American Society of Criminology conference (November 16 – 19). #ASC2016 #HumanRightsDay

by Barbara Owen, co-author of In Search of Safety: Confronting Inequality in Women’s Imprisonment

The United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-custodial Measures for Women Offenders or the Bangkok Rules outlines a human rights approach to the management of women in prison. In the United States, most prison operational practice is based on a version of civil rights; the Bangkok Rules and other international instruments are based on human rights- a very different approach. While few US prison system rely on a human rights perspective, the rest of the world has been more open to the human rights approach with its emphasis on the respect and dignity of all persons, regardless of their legal status.

As researchers who study women in conflict with the law know, women in prison require a separate approach than those designed for men. Despite their small share in prison population, the number of women prisoners worldwide has significantly increased at faster rate than men over the past decade. Across the globe, women prisoners share common background which shapes their pathways to prison. Many have similar histories of abuse and trauma, limited opportunity to education and work. Some have substance abuse, mental and physical health problems. Without appropriate support and gender sensitive treatment, women prisoners are at risk of re-victimization in prison settings and reoffending.

Author Barbara Owen (bottom row, 3rd from right) with Thailand Institute of Justice and program attendees.
Author Barbara Owen (bottom row, 3rd from right) with Thailand Institute of Justice and program attendees.

Since 2008, I have had the enormous pleasure of working with the Thailand Institute of Justice (TIJ) in developing, implementing and measuring human rights through in women’s prisons. This post outlines the work I was privileged to develop in August of this year. The Bangkok Rules also requires UN member states (which are mostly countries) to collect survey and profile data on women in prison. To date, surveys that I developed with my colleagues at TIJ have been administered in almost all the Southeast Asian countries.

Author Barbara Owen speaking in front of Thailand Institute of Justice program attendees on Bangkok Rules.
Author Barbara Owen speaking in front of Thailand Institute of Justice program attendees on Bangkok Rules.

Based on the Bangkok Rules and my on-going research on imprisoned women, I was part of a team that designed a two-week program training program that aimed to provide guidance and practical knowledge on translating the Bangkok Rules and other human rights instruments into practice. The program was delivered to team form 12 different countries, most were from Southeast Asia, with additional participants from Kenya and Sri Lanka. Using polling software, I developed a Self-Assessment process that provided immediate feedback and spurred discussion among the 20 participants. In addition to rating their compliance and progress toward implementing the Bangkok Rules and other relevant human rights instruments, the self-assessment process structured discussions of challenges and solutions of gender-sensitive prison management, sets priorities, and helps to develop a preliminary Action Plan.

The Self-Assessment process and the overall training was an enormous success. These pictures provide a glimpse into this program. Cambodia has invited us to a follow-up conference next year. I have long been discouraged about the progress of US prison systems to implement a gender-responsive approach to managing women’s prisons. My work with the Thailand Institute of Justice has given me new hope that prison systems can incorporate both human rights standards and gender-sensitive management practices.

Owen.InSearchOfSafetyMy ASC presentation, “Measuring the Bangkok Rules” will describe the survey research and the Self-Assessment process. Come on by Wednesday morning and hear about this very exciting work. I also invite readers to look at additional work around the Bangkok Rules conducted by the TIJ and another partner in this work at Penal Reform International.


Barbara Owen is Professor Emerita at California State University, Fresno and co-author of In Search of Safety: Confronting Inequality in Women’s Imprisonment alongside James Wells and Joycelyn Pollock.


Genocide: From Armenia to Darfur

This post is published in advance of the National Women’s Studies Association conference in Montreal, Quebec from November 10 – 13 and in advance of American Society of Criminology conference in New Orleans from November 16 – 19. #NWSA2016 #ASC2016 #Election2016 

Joachim J. Savelsberg presented insights from Representing Mass Violence: Conflicting Responses to Human Rights Violations in Darfur to affected groups on several occasions. After a speech in Yerevan, Armenia, on the occasion of the 101st anniversary of the Armenian genocide, Savelsberg more recently addressed and exchanged ideas with refugees from Darfur and other troubled regions in the Middle East.

Savelsberg-RepresentingMassViolenceOne opportunity was offered by the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris, participant in a movement among French universities that offer refugees a path back into higher education. In this context, Savelsberg lectured and discussed with a group of Sudanese, Syrian and Palestinian refugee-students. His lecture evoked much interest and intense discussions. Students primarily wanted to know what actions could put an end to the continuing and newly intensifying mass atrocities in Darfur. Why does the West not intervene with military force? Why does it not arm rebel groups who fight the Sudanese government? Why have peace negotiations not succeeded? Why have indictments by the International Criminal Court (ICC) not resulted in arrests? While not all answers could satisfy all members of the group, students took some comfort from the observation that UN and ICC interventions had advanced an international perception of the mass atrocities as a form of criminal violence. They shared the author’s hope that this trend will, in the long run, further delegitimize mass atrocities and challenge those political and military actors who bear responsibility. American institutions of higher education might, it seems, learn from French universities and their initiatives, which stand in sharp contrast to closed doors rhetoric (and policy) and to the rise of right-wing populist movements that enhance exclusion and risk advancing political-religious radicalization and criminalization.

Joachim Savelsberg at Darfur Women Action Group's Mobile, Engage, Empower to End Genocide Symposium.
Joachim Savelsberg at Darfur Women Action Group’s Mobile, Engage, Empower to End Genocide Symposium.

More recently, Savelsberg spoke to Citizens for Global Solutions in Minneapolis, MN and, in Washington, DC, at the 2016 Women and Genocide conference, organized by the Darfur Women Action Group (DAWG), with support from the Global Women’s Institute, George Washington University, and the Genocide Prevention Program, George Mason University School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution. His lecture followed reports in which women from Rwanda, Darfur, Burma, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Northern Nigeria spoke to their experiences in the context of mass atrocities. Like in Paris, careful scholarly analysis of the effects of new international institutions encounter impatience among those who are directly affected. Some scholars reinforce that impatience also at the DAWG event, as they focus on the weaknesses of new institutions. Savelsberg instead highlighted the historical novelty of international criminal justice, and alternative transitional justice institutions, urging patience in the exploration of the degree to which – paraphrasing Justice Robert Jackson – reason and some degree of the rule of law may eventually supplement the pure use of power in international relations. The experiment began only in the 20th century. It is a novelty in human history, initial malfunctions are expected and no reasons for dismissal. Representing Mass Violence documents how it may advance cultural change and promote hope.


Representing Mass Violence: Conflicting Responses to Human Rights Violations in Darfur by Joachim J. Savelsberg is available as a free Luminos Open Access e-book and available for free download.