Prisoners and Human Rights
Prisoners, just like all other people, are entitled to enjoy their human rights. Prisoners can make complaints to the Commission about human rights breaches and discrimination that occurs in prison.
Do you think you have been discriminated against while in prison? See our Complaints page for information on how to make a complaint to the Commission.
Which human rights are particularly relevant for prisoners?
The right to be treated with humanity, dignity and respect while in detention
The United Nations Human Rights Committee has made it clear that prisoners enjoy all the rights in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), subject to 'restrictions that are unavoidable in a closed environment'. (General Comment No.21)
One right of special importance to prisoners is the right to be treated with humanity, dignity and respect while in detention. This human right is set out in articles 7 and 10 of the ICCPR, article 37 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and in the Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT).
The right to vote
Another right of special relevance to prisoners is the right to vote (ICCPR, article 25). Currently in Australia, people who have been sentenced for more than 3 years in prison do not have the right to vote in federal elections while they are serving their sentence. Some argue that it may be reasonable to punish prisoners who have committed serious crimes by depriving them of the right to vote.
However, the United Nations Human Rights Committee considers that depriving persons who have been convicted of a felony of the right to vote does not meet the obligations in article 25 of the ICCPR nor does it serve the rehabilitation goals of article 10(3) of the Convenant. (Human Rights Committee 18 December 2006)
The Australian Human Rights Commission does not support the view that prisoners should have their right to vote suspended during their period of imprisonment..
- Click here for further information on the Right to Vote
Past projects and publications
- Prisoners and the right to vote: The right to vote is not enjoyed equally by all Australians, 2007
- Distribution of prisoners’ magazines: Report of an inquiry into a complaint made on behalf of federal prisoners detained in New South Wales correctional centres that their human rights have been breached by the decision to ban distribution of the magazine 'Framed' (2006)
- Discrimination against people with a criminal record: On the Record, 2005
- Prisoners and health care needs in prison: Submission to NSW Coroner’s Court Inquest, 2004
- The rights of people in immigration detention: A Last Resort?, 2004
- Indigenous women and release from prisons: Social Justice Report 2004
- Indigenous women and corrections: Social Justice Report 2002
- Prisoners as Citizens: workshop and book about the rights of prisoners in Australia, 2002
- Prisoners and mental illness:
- Not for Service, 2005
- National Inquiry on the Human Rights of People with a Mental Illness, Chapter 25, 1993