Bipartisan Bill Tackles Horrific Foreign Prison Conditions
A broad range of faith-based, human rights, and justice reform organizations praise legislation aimed at improving inhumane foreign prisons.

September 16, 2010

Washington, D.C., September 16, 2010 – A wide spectrum of faith-based, human rights, and justice reform organizations today praised newly introduced legislation to improve horrendous conditions in foreign prisons. The “Foreign Prison Conditions Improvement Act of 2010,” was introduced by Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Sam Brownback (R-KS) in the Senate and Reps. Bill Delahunt (D-MA) and Joe Pitts (R-PA) in the House.

In many countries, prisoners are literally treated worse than animals – deprived of adequate food, water, sanitation, or space to sleep. Examples of these conditions include prisoners in Malawi forced to sleep sitting back-to-back due to overcrowding; cave like cells in Jamaica infested with rats; inmates in Uruguay forced to drink from their toilets; and in Papua New Guinea, women reportedly gang-raped for violating prison rules. Abysmal conditions and the absence of even rudimentary medical care allow diseases to spread quickly, threatening local communities as well as prisoners.

A broad range of organizations support the legislation, including the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, Human Rights Watch, the International Justice Mission, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the Open Society Policy Center, Penal Reform International, and Prison Fellowship.

“It is heartbreaking to think of these conditions in which our brothers and sisters are being held around the world. It’s our moral imperative to speak out on their behalf because there is no one else that will,” said Pat Nolan, vice president of Prison Fellowship.

The legislation requires the State Department to publish an annual list of countries with the worst prisons. It would also remove from the Foreign Assistance Act a longstanding prohibition on providing aid to improve prison conditions. It requires State Department negotiations with countries making no significant efforts to improve life-threatening prisons, creates a senior position at the State Department to address prison conditions, and requires new training programs for Foreign Service Officers.

“This legislation, if passed, has the potential to improve the quality of life for those enduring the worst prison conditions in the world,” said Alison Hannah, executive director, Penal Reform International. “Carefully focused investment of diplomatic attention, encouragement to address the causes of overcrowding, and modest aid can potentially produce huge, life-saving returns.”

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