Officially, the ‘Bangkok Rules’ is the United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-custodial Measures for Women Offenders, and the UN General Assembly adopted the rules in December 2010. They are relevant in transcending international issues relating to prison and incarceration communities that do not cater to women. The Bangkok Rules should always be read in conjunction with the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (STMRTP). The Bangkok rules merely supplements them by providing foundational rules that facilitate to female prisoners to avoid bureaucratic discrimination.
According to the book “Using Participatory Action Research to put the Bangkok Rule into Practice, The Thai Prison Case Study”:
- Culturally women are abused both within the social world and within incarceration. Therefore, there treatment of women should be specialised.
- The Bangkok Rules are not linked to discrimination, but rather acknowledge particular needs that are linked to female gender physically, socially and culturally.
Consideration is given to issues such as:
- powerlessness to bargain or plea
- separation from children
- care for elderly family (parents) outside of prison
- health problems (reproductive health and sexually transmitted diseases)
- the problem of pregnant women and giving birth in prison
- psychological conditions of prison which enforce stress, pressure, self-harm and suicide.
Statement by Debbie Kilroy, CEO of Sisters Inside:
“The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) should investigate Australia's compliance with the Bangkok Rules (the United Nations Rules on the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-Custodial Measures for Women Offenders). Adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2011, the Bangkok Rules recognises that women have a different criminogenic profile toThe Rules are designed to ensure the equitable and appropriate treatment of criminalised women. The AHRC should be resourced to play a leading role in ensuring that all Australian states and territories meet their human rights obligations under the Bangkok Rules.
The tough on crime approach which has characterised Australia's approach over recent decades has been a demonstrable failure. Far from reducing crime, it has created a climate in which crime can flourish - both now and into the future.
Relevance of the ‘Bangkok Rules’ to women and children:
Pregnant or breastfeeding women prisoners shall receive advice on their health and diet under a program drawn up and monitored by a qualified health practitioner. Adequate and timely food, a healthy environment and regular exercise opportunities shall be provided free of charge for pregnant women, babies, children and breastfeeding mothers.
Women prisoners shall not be discouraged from breastfeeding their children, unless there are specific health reasons to do so.
The medical and nutritional needs of women prisoners who have recently given birth, but whose babies are not with them in prison, shall be included in treatment programs.
Decisions to allow children to stay with their mothers in prison shall be based on the best interests of the children. Children in prison with their mothers shall never be treated as prisoners.
Women prisoners whose children are in prison with them shall be provided with the maximum possible opportunities to spend time with their children.
Children living with their mothers in prison shall be provided with ongoing health-care services and specialists, in collaboration with community health services, shall monitor their development.
The environment provided for such children’s upbringing shall be as close as possible to that of a child outside prison.
Decisions as to when a child is to be separated from its mother shall be based on individual assessments and the best interests of the child within the scope of relevant national laws.
The removal of the child from prison shall be undertaken with sensitivity, only when alternative care arrangements for the child have been identified and, in the case of foreign-national prisoners, in consultation with consular officials.
After children are separated from their mothers and placed with family or relatives or in other alternative care, women prisoners shall be given the maximum possible opportunity and facilities to meet with their children, when it is in the best interests of the children and when public safety is not compromised.
Relevance of the ‘Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners’ to women and children:
Special attention shall be paid to the maintenance and improvement of such relations between a prisoner and his family as are desirable in the best interests of both.
Women prisoners’ contact with their families, including their children, their children’s guardians and legal representatives shall be encouraged and facilitated by all reasonable means. Where possible, measures shall be taken to counterbalance disadvantages faced by women detained in institutions located far from their homes.
Where conjugal visits are allowed, women prisoners shall be able to exercise this right on an equal basis with men.
Visits involving children shall take place in an environment that is conducive to a positive visiting experience, including with regard to staff attitudes, and shall allow open contact between mother and child. Visits involving extended contact with children should be encouraged, where possible.
In women’s institutions there shall be special accommodation for all necessary prenatal and postnatal care and treatment. Arrangements shall be made wherever practicable for children to be born in a hospital outside the institution. If a child is born in a prison, it shall not be mentioned in the birth certificate.
Where nursing infants are allowed to remain in the institution with their mothers, provision shall be made for a nursery staffed by qualified persons, where the infants shall be placed when they are not in the care of their mothers.
Do women currently have any human rights in Australian prisons?
Australia is a member of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The ICCPR has a number of provisions that are relevant to prisoners including:
- Article 7, which states that ‘(n)o one shall be subjected to torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment’
- Article 10(1), which provides that ‘(a)ll persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person’
- Article 10(3), which highlights that ‘(t)he penitentiary system shall comprise treatment of prisoners the essential aim of which shall be their reformation and social rehabilitation’
All human rights are to be preserved while a person is in prison according to international human rights law, except for the right of liberty. See the United Nations General Assembly’s “Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners” (Principle 5). As such prisoners still maintain among other things, ‘their right to life, personal security, privacy, the right to equality and not to be discriminated against’.