Media Center / Remarks by UN Resident Coordinator Hanaa Singer at the launch of the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) supported programme for prison officers

Remarks by UN Resident Coordinator Hanaa Singer at the launch of the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) supported programme for prison officers

Posted on: 18 / 09 / 2019

Please find below a Speech by the United Nations Resident Coordinator for Sri Lanka Hanaa Singer at the Sri Lanka Department of Prisons Training Facility on 18.09.2019. The Resident Coordinator was speaking at the launch of a United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) supported programme for prison officers.

 Excerpts of the Speech:

For over 60 years, the United Nations has explored ways in which criminal justice systems can operate more effectively and humanely. The United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, the first legal instrument in the vast body of standards and norms in crime prevention and criminal justice, was adopted in 1955.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has developed a wide range of tools to support countries who wish to reform their prison systems, including through:

  • undertaking legislative and regulatory reform,
  • improving prison management practices and capacities,
  • protecting vulnerable groups,
  • and promoting human rights.

The purpose of a prison sentence is, ultimately, to protect society against crime. This end can only be achieved if the period of imprisonment is used to ensure that upon the offender’s return to society, he/she is willing and able to lead a law-abiding and self-supporting life. Many achieve this goal of reinsertion and profit from whatever academic, professional, vocational or spiritual training the prison system offered them.

However, it is also the case that prisons can become, for some inmates, schools of crime, recruiting centres for gangs and mafias, and fertile ground for radicalisation, as they offer criminals of all sorts access to a potential pool of vulnerable individuals who could be easily lured into joining violent extremist groups or other criminal networks.

However, the contained and controlled environment of prisons with access to at-risk prisoners can also present an opportunity for countering violent extremism. The dynamic training programme being undertaken today aims to strengthen the management of high risk prisoners and effectively prevent prisoners’ radicalization in the course of their imprisonment – while complying with international standards and norms. The UN’s approach recognises that although prisons may constitute potential locations for radicalization, at the same time, they can also provide an opportunity for prisoners to disengage from violence, potentially serving as a catalyst for positive change.

Here in Sri Lanka authorities are also very aware of the need to address drug trafficking and organised criminal networks that continue to operate from inside prisons.

In 2019, over 1 tonne of heroin has been seized by Sri Lankan law enforcement authorities. More than 26,000 persons have been arrested on suspicion of drug trafficking – this represents an 66% increase with respect to 2018.  Estimates indicate that between 200 to 300 kg enter inside the Sri Lankan Prisons System every year[1].

The drug menace should be addressed using a holistic approach involving health, human rights, criminal justice and social service institutions. Studies show that the certainty of punishment (the probability of being caught and punished for a crime) is a much stronger deterrent from committing a crime than the severity of the punishment.

The training being undertaken by UNODC with the Prisons Officers today is an evidenced based approach that aims to improve relationships between prison staff and inmates – to enable officers to better detect and address risks before such risks escalate into incidents.

Thus, enhancing the capacity of the Sri Lanka Prison Service in the fight against organised crime and terrorism.  As a result of the training, prison officers will have the necessary skillset to disrupt organised crime networks operating from inside the prisons and effectively prevent and manage high-risk prisoners. The training will facilitate the early detection and disruption of radicalisation, as well as provide a secure and safe environment where rehabilitation programmes and disengagement interventions can be delivered. Specific attention will be paid to ensure prison management is in conformity with international minimum standards and human rights.

We as the UN hope that together we can work to improve the conditions within prisons to battle the menace of drugs and organised crime and prevent the radicalisation of prisoners – to create a safer Sri Lanka for all.


[1] Statistics shared by the Sri Lanka Police with UNODC