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ACLU National Prison Project - U.S. Cases Citing U.N. Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Nelson Mandela Rules), 2016

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U.S. Cases Citing
U.N. Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners
(the Nelson Mandela Rules)
David C. Fathi
ACLU National Prison Project
915 15th St. N.W., 7th Floor
Washington, DC 20005
(202) 548-6603
dfathi@aclu.org
Federal
Supreme Court
Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 103 & n.8 (1976) (“The infliction of such unnecessary suffering
is inconsistent with contemporary standards of decency[.]”). These standards are manifested by,
among other sources, the Standard Minimum Rules (Rules 22-26). The case is specifically about
deliberate indifference in not providing prisoners with adequate access to medical treatment.
Courts of Appeals
Villegas v. Metro. Gov't of Nashville, 709 F.3d 563, 572-73 (6th Cir. 2013) (“In its Standard
Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, the United Nations stated that restraints
including handcuffs and leg irons should only be used ‘[a]s a precaution against escape,’ ‘[o]n
medical grounds by direction of the medical officer,’ or ‘if other methods of control fail, in order
to prevent a prisoner from injuring himself or others or from damaging property.’ E.S.C. Res.
663 C (XXIV) (July 31, 1957), 2076 (LXII) (May 13, 1977), at Rule 33”). The court concludes
that “the shackling of pregnant detainees while in labor offends contemporary standards of
human decency such that the practice violates the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against the
‘unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain’—i.e., it poses a substantial risk of serious harm.” Id.
at 574.
Carmichael v. United Techs. Corp., 835 F.2d 109, 113 (5th Cir. 1988) (“The treaties [sic] cited
by Carmichael [including the Standard Minimum Rules at n.6] lend support to the conclusion
that a consensus has been reached, at least among the countries that purport to uphold those
treaties, that official torture violates the standards by which nations regulate their dealings with
one another.”).
Lareau v. Manson, 651 F.2d 96, 107 (2d Cir. 1981) (“As the Supreme Court stated in [Bell v.]
Wolfish, the recommendations of these professional groups ‘do not establish the constitutional
minima,’ but they ‘may be instructive in certain cases.’ 441 U.S. at 543 n. 27, 99 S.Ct. at 1876 n.
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27. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 103 n. 8, 97 S.Ct. 285, 290 n. 8, 50 L.Ed.2d 251 (1976), cites
the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules as one of many manifestations of ‘contemporary
standards of decency.’ Here, the various guidelines illustrate the glaring disparity on even the
most rudimentary square footage level between the conditions in the HCCC and the conditions
widely thought by knowledgeable bodies to be essential”).
Morgan v. LaVallee, 526 F.2d 221, 226 n.8 (2d Cir. 1975) (“Genuine health regulations,
however, are properly the concern of prison authorities; hygienic clothing and bedding is a goal
sought indeed by most minimum standards of prison administration that have been proposed.
See, e.g., United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, Rules 17, 18
and 19.”).
District Courts
U.S. v. D.W., No. 13-CR-173, ____ F.Supp.3d ____, 2016 WL 4053173, at *104 (E.D.N.Y. July
28, 2016) (citing requirement of the Standard Minimum Rules that “[s]olitary confinement shall
be used only in exceptional cases as a last resort, for as short a time as possible and subject to
independent review”) (Rule 45).
Peoples v. Annucci, No. 11-CV-2694 (SAS), 2016 WL 1464613, at *4 (S.D.N.Y. Apr. 14, 2016)
(“The global community also has recognized the threat that solitary confinement poses to the
health of inmates—and taken decisive measures to curtail its use. In fact, in September, 2015, the
United Nations General Assembly revised its Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of
Prisoners to state that ‘[s]olitary confinement shall be used only in exceptional cases as a last
resort, for as short a time as possible and subject to independent review’”) (Rule 45).
Karsjens v. Jesson, 6 F. Supp. 3d 958, 969 n.9 (D. Minn. 2014) (“The [Rule 706] experts note
that the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (SMR) of the United Nations,
to which the United States is a signatory, state that women should be detained separate from
men”).
Thomas v. Baca, 514 F. Supp. 2d 1201, 1217-18 (C.D. Cal. 2007) (“International guidelines
support this basic right [to sleep in a bed rather than on the floor]. See, e.g., Roper v. Simmons,
543 U.S. 551, 578, 125 S.Ct. 1183, 161 L.Ed.2d 1 (2005) (considering ‘international opinion’ in
Eighth Amendment analysis); Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304, 122 S.Ct. 2242, 153 L.Ed.2d 335
(2002) (same). For example, the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of
Prisoners, which contain guidelines regarding confinement conditions and set forth minimum
acceptable prison conditions, provide that ‘[e]very prisoner shall, in accordance with local or
national standards, be provided with a separate bed, and with separate and sufficient bedding
which shall be clean when issued, kept in good order and changed often enough to ensure its
cleanliness.’ United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for Treatment of Prisoners, E.S.C. Res.
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663 C (XXIV), U.N. ESCOR, 24th Sess., Supp. No. 1, ¶ 19, U.N. Doc. E/3048 (1957) (amended
1977) (emphasis added)”).
West v. Frank, 492 F. Supp. 2d 1040, 1045 (W.D. Wis. 2007) (“Even when security interests
support limitations on a prisoner's reading materials, courts scrutinize those limitations carefully,
particularly in this circuit. It is probable that prisoners have had greater success on censorship
claims in this circuit than on any other First Amendment claim. … See also United Nations
Congress on Prevention of Crime and Treatment of Offenders, Standard Minimum Rules for the
Treatment of Prisoners (1955), cited in Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 103 n. 8, 97 S.Ct. 285, 50
L.Ed.2d 251 (1976), Rule 39 (‘Prisoners shall be kept informed regularly of the more important
items of news by the reading of newspapers, periodicals or special institutional publications, by
hearing wireless transmissions, by lectures or by any similar means as authorized or controlled
by the administration.’)”).
Kane v. Winn, 319 F. Supp. 2d 162 (D. Mass. 2004) (“The treaties mentioned above constitute
both state practice and evidence of opinio juris. So do a number of nontreaty human rights
instruments and United Nations General Assembly Resolutions, many of which the United States
has approved,” including the Standard Minimum Rules. Id. at 197. See also id. at 198 n. 52: “In
this country, principles of the Standard Minimum Rules were incorporated into the 1962 Model
Penal Code and the correctional standards developed in 1973 by the National Advisory
Commission on Criminal Justice Standards and Goals. The Standard Minimum Rules have
directly influenced penal laws in states such as Connecticut, Illinois, Minnesota, Ohio,
Pennsylvania, and South Carolina”) (citations omitted)). This case was about access to medical
treatment for a prisoner with Hepatitis C.
Williams v. Coughlin, 875 F. Supp. 1004, 1012-13 (W.D.N.Y. 1995) (“Courts may use, inter
alia, correctional guidelines and standards from a variety of sources to inform themselves of
contemporary standards relating to the operation of corrections facilities. See, e.g., Rhodes v.
Chapman, 452 U.S. at 343, 348, nn. 7, 13, 101 S.Ct. at 2397, 2400, nn. 7, 13; Estelle v. Gamble,
429 U.S. at 103 n. 7, 97 S.Ct. at 290; Lareau v. Manson, 651 F.2d 96, 106–07 (2d Cir.1981). In
this regard, I note that several such documents indicate that current standards require the
provision of as many as three meals per day, and disapprove the use of food deprivation as a
disciplinary measure. See, e.g., . . . United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment
of Prisoners (1955), Rule 20(1) (‘[e]very prisoner shall be provided by the administration at the
usual hours with food of nutritional value for health and strength ...’ (emphasis added)). In view
of the above, I have no hesitation in finding that the defendants' motions for summary judgment
cannot be granted on the basis that the deprivation suffered by Williams was not sufficiently
serious to be of constitutional dimension”).
Lareau v. Manson, 507 F. Supp. 1177, 1192-93 (D. Conn. 1980), aff'd in part, modified in part
and remanded, 651 F.2d 96 (2d Cir. 1981) (“There is no need to belabor the effects of
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overcrowded conditions on inmates at the HCCC. As noted previously, inmates including those
who have been convicted and sentenced are required to live in such close quarters that their
physical and mental well-being is harmed. The ‘evolving standards of decency’ with which the
overcrowding of inmates at the HCCC are incompatible include the Standard Minimum Rules
for the Treatment of Prisoners, which have been adopted by the United Nations Economic and
Social Council (the members of which include some nations whose standards of decency and
human rights are far less stringent than our own) and thus form part of the body of international
human rights principles establishing standards for decent and humane conduct by all nations.
See Estelle v. Gamble, supra, 429 U.S. at 103-04 & n.8, 97 S.Ct. at 290-291 n.8 (citing the
Standard Minimum Rules as evidence of ‘contemporary standards of decency’). The defendants
themselves have embraced these international standards. In 1974, the defendants adopted the
Standard Minimum Rules as the preamble to the Administrative Directives of the Connecticut
Department of Correction. This action was apparently taken pursuant to Commissioner
Manson's statutory mandate to promulgate ‘rules for administrative practices ... in accordance
with recognized correctional standards.’ Conn. Gen. Stat. s 18-81”). There is additional
extensive discussion of the Standard Minimum Rules at nn. 9, 18, and 19.
U.S. ex rel. Wolfish v. Levi, 439 F. Supp. 114, 154 (S.D.N.Y. 1977), aff'd in part, rev'd in part
sub nom. Wolfish v. Levi, 573 F.2d 118 (2d Cir. 1978), rev'd sub nom. Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S.
520, 99 S. Ct. 1861, 60 L. Ed. 2d 447 (1979) (“There is wide acceptance of the U.N. Standard
stating: ‘An untried prisoner shall be allowed to wear his own clothing if it is clean and suitable.’
U.N. Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, Rule 88(1). Whether or not the
Federal Bureau can manage to attain that standard, endorsed by many nations much less wealthy,
it cannot justify compelled dress in a costume understandably experienced as humiliating in
addition to its qualities of physical discomfort”). See also id. at 159 (citing Rule 53 [limiting
access of male staff to living quarters of female prisoners]).
Jones v. Wittenberg, 440 F. Supp. 60, 149 (N.D. Ohio 1977) (“Two hours of recreation per week
fall far short of standards proposed by correction experts themselves. For example…the Standard
Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners promulgated by the 4th United Nations Congress
on Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders provide that ‘every prisoner who is not
employed in outdoor work shall have at least one hour of suitable exercise in the open air daily if
the weather permits.’” (Rule 21(1)).
State
Bott v. DeLand, 922 P.2d 732, 740 (Utah 1996), abrogated on other grounds by Spackman ex
rel. Spackman v. Bd. of Educ. of Box Elder Cty. Sch. Dist., 16 P.3d 533 (Utah 2000). (Both the
Oregon and Utah constitutions contain a prohibition against treatment of prisoners with
“unnecessary rigor.” “This standard was pioneered by the Oregon Supreme Court under the
unnecessary rigor clause of the Oregon Constitution, article I, section 13 [in Sterling v. Cupp,
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infra]. The court, noting that the heart of the unnecessary rigor provision was its ability to
embody evolving touchstones of humanity, based this standard upon internationally accepted
standards of humane treatment as articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the
International Covenant of [sic] Civil and Political Rights, and the Standard Minimum Rules for
the Treatment of Prisoners adopted by the First United Nations Congress on the Prevention of
Crime and the Treatment of Offenders in 1955”). The Utah court accepted the Oregon court’s
definition and applied it to the case at bar.
Crain v. Bordenkircher, 342 S.E.2d 422, 446 (W. Va. 1986) (“There is no federal or state
constitutional standard that determines the precise minimum dimensions for prison cell size.
There are, however, other standards established not out of constitutional considerations, but out
of humanitarian and decency considerations, that recommend between fifty and eighty square
feet per inmate”). The court then cites, among other sources, the Standard Minimum Rules, Rule
9(1) (“each prisoner shall occupy by night a cell or room by himself”), in n. 16.
Sterling v. Cupp, 625 P.2d 123, 131 n. 21 (Or. 1981) (“The Standard Minimum Rules for the
Treatment of Prisoners adopted by the First United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime
and the Treatment of Offenders in 1955 and approved by the Economic and Social Council in
1957 (Resolution 663C (XXIV)) provide for the separation of male and female prisoners (Rule
8(a)) and for minimizing conditions which tend to lessen the responsibility of the prisoners or the
respect due to their dignity as human beings.’ (Rule 60(1).)”). The court, applying Oregon’s
state constitutional prohibition against “unnecessary rigor” in the treatment of prisoners, held
that pat-down searches of male prisoners’ sexually intimate areas by female staff are generally
unconstitutional.
Avant v. Clifford, 341 A.2d 629, 637-38 (N.J. 1975) (“The United Nations Standard Minimum
Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (1974) suggests in Rule 35 that: ‘(1) Every prisoner on
admission shall be provided with written information about the regulations governing the
treatment of prisoners of his category, the disciplinary requirements of the institution, the
authorized methods of seeking information and making complaints, and all such other matters as
are necessary to enable him to understand both his rights and his obligations and to adapt himself
to the life of the institution; (2) If a prisoner is illiterate, the aforesaid information shall be
conveyed to him orally.’”). The case involved due process requirements in prison disciplinary
proceedings.

August 1, 2016

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