FACTSHEET

The Standard Minimum Rules revised in 2015 (the
Nelson Mandela Rules)10 explicitly acknowledge the
concept of dynamic security and encourage prison
administrations ‘to use, to the extent possible, conflict
prevention, mediation or any other alternative dispute
resolution mechanism to prevent disciplinary offences or
to resolve conflicts’.11

[G]enerally the literature supports the
“
notion that the more coercive the prison

environment the greater the potential for
violence. This is especially so where prison
management and treatment of prisoners
are perceived by prisoners as unfair or
illegitimate, as this strengthens prisoner
solidarity in opposition to the authorities.
This in turn threatens the legitimacy of the
regime and reduces prisoner compliance.
Conversely, prisons that provide more
opportunities for prisoner participation in
education and vocational programs and
promote self-efficacy, generally report
reduced levels of rule violations and
violence. 12

”

As a consequence, the use of restraints that are ‘inherently
degrading or painful’ is not permissible under any
circumstances. This should be read in the light of the
commentary to Article 5 of the UN Code of Conduct for
Law Enforcement Officials, which states that the term
cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment
‘should be interpreted so as to extend the widest possible
protection against abuses, whether physical or mental’.
The use of restraints should be prescribed by law, and be
restricted by the principles of necessity and proportionality.15
International standards require that restraints are used
restrictively, only in exceptional cases, where other methods
have been exhausted and failed. Standards developed
for the use of force and firearms indicate as permissible
purposes: self-defence or defence of others against the
imminent threat of death or serious injury; to prevent the
perpetration of a particularly serious crime involving grave
threat to life; to prevent escape; however, only when less
extreme means are insufficient to achieve these objectives.16
Instruments of restraint should only be used for the
shortest possible period of time, and should never be
applied as a punishment.17 The role of doctors is guided –
and limited – by standards developed on medical ethics.18

Main references
•	 UN Convention against Torture, Articles 1, 2, 4, 10,
11, 12, 13, 15 and 16

•	 UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms

This Factsheet focuses specifically on the use of
mechanical restraints. It outlines risk factors deriving from
the use of such devices in the penitentiary context – in
police custody, prisons and during transfers. It does not
cover its use in psychiatric institutions,13 other places of
deprivation of liberty, or during deportation.14

by Law Enforcement Officials

•	 UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials19
•	 UN revised Standard Minimum Rules for the

Treatment of Prisoners (Nelson Mandela Rules), Rules
47-49, 76 and 82

•	 UN Rules for the Protection of Juveniles Deprived of

2.	What are the main standards?
Prohibitions and limitations of use, as well as the manner
in which instruments of restraint may be applied, derive
from the prohibition of torture and cruel, inhuman or
degrading treatment or punishment, and from the
obligation to respect and protect the human dignity of
persons deprived of their liberty.

their Liberty, Rule 64

•	 UN Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and
Non-custodial Measures for Women Offenders (the
Bangkok Rules), Rule 24

•	 European Prison Rules, Rule 68
•	 Principles of Medical Ethics relevant to the Role of
Health Personnel, particularly Physicians

10.	Revised United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Nelson Mandela Rules), adopted by the UN Commission on Crime
Prevention and Criminal Justice on 22 May 2015, endorsed by the Economic and Social Council on 9 September 2015, UN-Doc. E/RES/2015/20 and
adopted by UN General Assembly Third Committee on 5 November 2015, UN-Doc. A/C.3/70/L.3 (at the time of printing this Resolution was pending
adoption by the plenary of the UN General Assembly.).
11.	Revised Standard Minimum Rules, Rules 38 (1) and 76 (1c).
12.	Ibid.
13.	See European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) Standards, para. 36 et sqq and 47-50; and CPT 16th General Report on the CPT’s
activities 1 August – 31 July 2006, 16 October 2006, [CPT/Inf (2006) 35].
14.	See CPT 7th General Report, [CPT/Inf (97) 10], 22 August 1997, paras. 24 to 36); 13th General Report [CPT/Inf (2003) 35].
15.	Article 3, Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials; Rule 48 of the revised Standard Minimum Rules; for the application of these guiding
principles on restraints see Report of the Special Rapporteur on Torture, 23 December 2003, E/CN.4/2004/56, para. 18.
16.	See revised Standard Minimum Rules, Rule 47 (2) and the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials,
Principle 9; see also UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials, Articles 2, 3, 6 and 15; for application of these guiding principles on restraints
see Special Rapporteur on Torture, 2003, UN-Doc. E/CN.4/2004/56, para. 18.
17.	Revised Standard Minimum Rules, Rules 48 (1c) and 43 (2).
18.	Principles of Medical Ethics relevant to the Role of Health Personnel, particularly Physicians; see also Rule 46 (1) of the revised Standard Minimum
Rules.
19.	Article 1(a): The term ‘law enforcement officials’ includes all officers of the law, whether appointed or elected, who exercise police powers, especially
the powers of arrest or detention.

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Penal Reform International | Instruments of restraint: Addressing risk factors to prevent torture and ill-treatment

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