Center on Sentencing and Corrections

The Mandela Rules

Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners

The Mandela Rules

United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Nelson Mandela Rules), General Assembly Resolution 70/175, U.N. Doc. A/Res/70/175 (2015).


These rules, non-binding but significant international principles on the treatment of incarcerated people, were adopted by the United Nations Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice in May 2015, and then unanimously adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in December 2015. This is the first updating of the rules since their drafting in 1955. Known as the Mandela Rules in honor of the late Nelson Mandela, himself a prisoner for many years, the rules “remain the universally acknowledged benchmark for prison administrations worldwide,” according to the United Nations; “At their core, the rules stress the overriding principle that all prisoners shall be treated with respect due to their inherent dignity and value as human beings.” (Click here to view the United Nations’ press release on the adoption of the rules).

The reexamination of the rules focused on numerous topics, including disciplinary measures in prisons. Unlike the original rules, the revised rules explicitly address the use of solitary confinement (see rules 37, 43, 44, 45, and 46). The rules:

– Define solitary confinement as “the confinement of prisoners for 22 hours or more a day without meaningful human contact,” and state that it “shall be used only in exceptional cases as a last resort, for as short a time as possible and subject to independent review.”

– Prohibit prolonged solitary confinement (for a period longer than 15 consecutive days) and indefinite solitary confinement.

– Prohibit solitary confinement “for prisoners with mental or physical disabilities when their conditions would be exacerbated by such measures.”

– Note that the “prohibition of the use of solitary confinement and similar measures in cases involving women and children, as referred to in other United Nations standards and norms in crime prevention and criminal justice, continues to apply.”

– Address the role of health-care personnel in caring for prisoners held under disciplinary sanctions or other restrictive measures.


Click here to view the rules.


Keywords: international standards, international law, international norms, international human rights norms, human rights, indefinite solitary confinement, prolonged solitary confinement, long-term segregation