Working with drug offenders inside and outside prisons – Good practices and recommendations

Organized by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the UNODC Justice Section and the Italian Red Cross in partnership with Villa Maraini Foundation.

Wolfgang Kopetzky, Former secretary general of Austrian Red Cross

This is an extremely relevant and urgent topic. Over the past decade treatment and alternatives to imprisonment have received increased attention. Today, people with drug dependence still make up a large proportion of the prison population, though. Up to 90% of people who use drugs faced imprisonment at some point in their lives, and this has contributed to prison overcrowding. This event aims to promote health-based approach and alternatives to incarceration.

Valerie Lebaux, Chief of justice section of UNODC

Against the background of prison overcrowding, it is useful to exchange experiences and good practices related to alternatives to incarceration.

2015 marks the 25th anniversary of the UN standard minimum rules for custodial measures. These rules are to avoid unnecessary measures for imprisonment, and are based on the principle of minimum intervention. Under these rules, a wide range of non-custodial measures should be available. Failure of non-custodial measures should immediately lead to incarceration, and this is especially pertinent with regards to drug offences.

A large number of female prisoners worldwide are there for minor drug offences. Women in prison for drug trafficking often don’t play a major role in the trade and their involvement is often an outgrowth of their own drug dependence and vulnerability.

Drug offenders should be provided with adequate access to legal aid should they so need. Promotion of alternatives to incarceration for drug offences must come with promotion of treatment services. It’s essential there is a balance in this approach.

In Mexico, we’re supporting addiction treatment centres that are alternatives to imprisonment. Among good practices in Latin America are forms of vocational training that are provided as alternatives.

Nadia Gasbarrini, Villa Maraini Foundation

We’ve been working with drug offenders inside and outside prisons for several years. Activities inside prisons consist of providing psychological support or counselling, and referrals to treatment programs.

Outside prisons we provide psychological support for family and partners, legal assistance and advocacy, and and intake of people in alternative measures in therapeutic programs.

On the basis of these experiences working with drug offenders, we’ve planned and implemented a new project called ‘Alternative’ which works across Italy, France, Portugal and the Czech Republic. This promotes alternatives to incarceration, showing the benefits of this approach.

There are four main components of the project:

  1. Exchange of information among partners.
  2. Networking and capacity building activities for criminal justice agencies.
  3. Implementation of supporting activities in prison and treatment alternative programs.
  4. Ensuring dissemination of information across the EU.

[Talk continued and addressed detailed description of supporting activities inside prisons under the ‘Alternative’ project].


[Two further speakers were Miguel Lago and Massimo Barra (IFRC)].

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