sidebar menu


Prison massacres, dramatic protests, and violent guard abuse earn occasional news headlines, but the deplorable daily living conditions that are the plight of the great majority of the world's prisoners pass largely unnoticed. With
prison cell
A prison cell in the United States (Chris Cozzone photo).
scant public attention to the topic in most countries, correspondingly little progress is made in rectifying the abuses routinely inflicted in prisons and other places of detention. Many countries, moreover, foster public ignorance of prison inadequacies by denying human rights groups, journalists, and other outside observers nearly all access to their penal facilities. A smaller group of countries, including China and Cuba, even bar the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) from providing basic humanitarian relief to people in their prisons.

Human Rights Watch has conducted specialized prison research and campaigns for prisoners' rights since 1987, to focus international attention on prison conditions worldwide. We believe that a government's claim to respect human rights should be assessed not only by the political freedoms it allows but also by how it treats its prisoners, including those not held for political reasons. Our experience has repeatedly shown that a number of democratic countries that are rarely the focus of human rights scrutiny are in fact guilty of serious human rights violations within their prisons.

Working in conjunction with numerous local partners, Human Rights Watch monitors conditions of detention around the world, pressuring governments to bring their treatment of prisoners into compliance with basic human rights standards.

The following pages (last updated on September 24, 1999) provide information on prison conditions, prison abuses, human rights protections for prisoners, and related issues:

Back Button