The 18th of July, Nelson Mandela Day, is also Mandela Prisoner Rights Day, established to promote humane conditions of imprisonment, to raise awareness about prisoners being a continuous part of society, and to value the work of prison staff as a particularly important social service.

The Mandela Rules are officially known as the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, which were approved in 1957. They were named the Mandela Rules in 2015 to honour the legacy of Nelson Mandela, who sacrificed 27 years of his life, experiencing degrading treatment and solitary confinement, as part of his struggle for democracy and equality in South Africa.

Long-term imprisonment can be devastating to people; losing their freedom for the most part of their lives. It is therefore unsurprising that morale can fall, and a loss of belonging and sense of isolation can set in. It is really important for us to remind people that they are not forgotten and are important, no matter how long their sentence may be. Someone who we are supporting in Australia has been there for over 25 years now and tells us how the lengthy time inside has changed his attitude to life and the outside world. From hearing countless stories of how inmates ended up in prison, as well as watching the news, he told us that there is a fear of what the outside world will be like upon release; whether he will end up in prison again, or if he and his family will be safe. It can be incredibly daunting to leave prison after such a long time. Our resettlement service seeks to prepare people for life after a prison sentence, with an ultimate goal of reducing reoffending and helping people become independent as quickly as possible.

We also attempt to restore faith in humanity whilst the people we support are still in prison, and send out cards, books and newspapers to remind them that they are not forgotten. One ex-prisoner served 19 years in the Philippines where he endured appalling prison conditions, including sleeping on a flattened-out cardboard box for a bed and witnessing people suffering from leprosy and typhoid. The violence he witnessed over nearly two decades nearly de-humanised him but he said:

Prisoners Abroad helped me stay human. They made me feel remembered and cared for. I got birthday cards and Christmas cards every year, without fail. I knew I wasn’t forgotten. I looked forward to the Prisoners Abroad newsletter because they had articles written by people like me, in prison… to me, having Prisoners Abroad was like being able to see the light of a ship in a vast ocean of darkness”.

The 122 Mandela Rules highlight the need for fair and justified treatment of prisoners, including adequate personal hygiene, clothes and bedding, safe food and drinking water. It is unfortunate that after 70 years of the rules being in place, there are still a huge number of people detained overseas who do not have access to these basic resources. Rule number 1 states:

All prisoners shall be treated with the respect due to their inherent dignity and value as human beings. No prisoner shall be subjected to, and all prisoners shall be protected from, torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, for which no circumstances whatsoever may be invoked as a justification. The safety and security of prisoners, staff, service providers and visitors shall be ensured at all times.

Prisoners Abroad work towards the day where prisons around the world respect fair and dignified treatment of, and humane conditions for, all of the prisoners in their care.