Types of records
The names of records as well as their content can vary widely from one place to another. The essential point is that certain key information be listed in a systematic, understandable, consistent, and easily-accessible way while maintaining the right to privacy for those concerned. Records should be standardized and not unnecessarily duplicate information contained elsewhere.
- The office register and/or the prison records should include a set of data concerning newly admitted people and their placement in the institution but also the identity of the police escort and its place of origin. On this basis, it can be demonstrated that the detention is lawful and arbitrary detention can be prevented. Records of this nature must also include all information regarding transfers and releases.
- The function of the daily log or book of observation is to list all aspects relevant to daily life in the establishment. It’s the type of document that best reflects everyday life in an establishment and, if necessary, should enable the reconstruction of the circumstances of an incident. Usually, entries and exits, searches, placement in disciplinary cells, etc., can be found in the daily log.
- Individual detainee files are essential to guarantee proper care, particularly with a view to the person’s rehabilitation. Normally, individual records a detail detainees’ stay throughout the entire detention period and are transferred in the event the detainee is sent to another establishment. Other than the person’s identity and legal situation, individual files may also contain information linked to detention regime, behaviour, incidents, participation in training and activities etc. This information, which is usually recorded by trained personnel, such as social workers or probation officers, is concerned with the person’s social and professional rehabilitation. This information should never be used against those concerned and access to this information should be restricted to certain duly authorised people. Medical records should be kept separate from individual files.
-Medical records are essential to guarantee medical care for detainees. They should also include details of any possible care administered after allegations of ill-treatment. Therefore, they are a major safeguard for detainees. Medical records should be protected by medical confidentiality. Detainees should have access to the information contained in their medical record.
Institutions can keep numerous other types of records. Some are put in place by the central administration and others by the management of the place in question. These records vary greatly from one place to another but all can contain useful information and contribute to transparency and the obligation of accountability. Some examples of records are:
disciplinary area records
body search records
records concerning means of constraint
register of external monitoring and internal inspections
register of detainees’ money or valuables
register of facilities checks (including cell searches)
The obligation to keep records should be prescribed by law and accompanied by a decree of implementation in order to facilitate practical usage.
Purpose of keeping records
Regardless of the type of record, there are three main purposes for maintaining records in prison:
1) Keeping records contributes to good management of the institution. Rigorously listing the identity of all detainees, admittances and releases, comings and goings, transfers, placements by type of regime, disciplinary measures etc., allows prison and penitentiary administration authorities to have a general overview as well as control over prisons and the persons detained therein. Records, especially those that are computerised and linked to central administration, can help develop prison policies based on concrete data and help to remedy critical issues such as penitentiary overcrowding. Registers also permit tracking detainees’ legal situation and their behaviour throughout their detention. This information is essential for decisions pertaining to conditional release or other sentence modifications.
2) Rigorous record keeping is a fundamental guarantee of the protection of detainees’ basic rights. First and foremost for prison management and penitentiary authorities it is a way to prevent the risk of forced disappearances or arbitrary detention because the registers should allow for detainees to be rapidly located. It is for this reason that registers should very precisely note all movement to or from the establishment and list the identity of all personnel involved in all transfers as well as the places of origin and destination. Similarly, registers should serve as a safeguard against all abusive practices and serve as evidence to confirm or invalidate allegations concerning abusive practices. If registers are well-kept it is possible to monitor the effects of the use of force, means of constraint, strip searches, or confiscation of personal belongings. In such cases, registers constitute an essential safeguard for detainees.
3) Records, and in particular detainee files, help optimise data management with a view to individualised care and socio-professional rehabilitation. Elements such as participation in training or activities, refusal to attend a workshop or incidentsin which the person is involved should be included in the file and help guide professionals involved. Such effective tracking helps favour “dynamic security”, rooted in prevention, interaction and familiarity with detainees. Considering the personal nature of the information contained in these files, only authorised persons should have access and the information should be destroyed within a certain time period after the release of the person concerned.
Minimal information that should be included in registers
The minimal information that must imperatively appear in detention records aimed at preventing forced disappearances or arbitrary detention (Article 17.3 of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons Against Enforced Disappearances) is the following:
The identity of the person deprived of liberty
The date, hour and place where the person has been deprived of liberty and the authority that instituted it
The authority that decided upon the deprivation of liberty and the reasons behind it
The authority in charge of deprivation of liberty
The place of deprivation of liberty, the date and time of admission and the authority in charge
Aspects regarding the health of the person deprived of liberty
In case of death during detention, the circumstances and cause of death and the destination of the remains of the deceased
The date and time of release or transfer to another place of detention, the destination and the authority responsible for the transfer
To efficiently prevent other types of abuse and violations of human rights as well as for good management it is necessary for other information to be recorded, regardless of the type of register: the detainee’s health (including possible allegations of ill-treatment, medicine prescribed and administered, hospitalisations etc…) disciplinary measures (including the use of restraints), incidents involving use of force, body or cell searches, goods and personal effects, information concerning contact with the outside world as well as complaints and their follow-up. It is also important to be able to easily identify the people entering information in the registers.
It is essential to ensure records are kept. How these records are kept is just as important. Incomplete or poorly kept records may not just be pointless; they can conceal cases of abuse. Staff must be trained and urged to complete records correctly, systematically filling in all the different sections with the most accurate data possible as well as register events in chronological order. A late registration of data can cause suspicion, be it justified or not. For this reason, detention officers must fill in the records as items worth noting arise.
Non-existing registers or incomplete and poorly-kept records can also contribute to slowing down the process and even lead to failures of the judicial system. It can also lead to cases of excessive length of provisional detention. People in provisional detention are also at risk of not being aware of the charges they face. There is also a risk that they might not be kept separate from sentenced inmates.
Finally, poorly-kept records or records that have not been updated may mean that the information based on which decisions regarding inmates are taken is not reliable and thus hinders sentence planning and rehabilitation programs. Similarly, the lack of information on risk assessment can lead to arbitrary decisions or risks to other inmates.
In some places, limited resources are sometimes used to justify the non-existence of records or poor record keeping. While some types of sophisticated records, including computerised records, may represent significant investments, good record keeping depends primarily on clear and efficient procedures, appropriate training and rigorous filing. All relevant personnel should be well-trained in the use of registers and training should be held each time a new register or records system is introduced.
It is also important that the records are subject to hierarchical control, either by an officer of the registry, the director of the prison, or the central penitentiary administration.
Access and storage of information
Registers such as daily logs are usually filed by different people. It is therefore important to check the identity of any person entering information in a registry. Access to other records should be restricted and controlled, such as the prison office register/ prison record which should be kept by an appointed official. Individual records should not be freely accessible by all. In order to respect individuals’ privacy, the institution’s rules should clearly state which personnel have access to what information. Medical records should be accessible only to medical personnel and to external independent monitoring bodies.
Registers are written records of what happens in prison and must be filed in a way that enables all steps to be retraced. For this reason, all information must be traceable, which requires it to be rigorously held. The precise time of events and the identity of the persons concerned (including the persons responsible for entering information in the registry) must always be specified. A storage/ archive system where information can consistently be filed and easily located is necessary. In the case of computerised records, security access requires special care. Likewise, physical servers must be kept safe. The length of time data is stored once a person has been released should be regulated by legislation to prevent people being "on file" indefinitely.
Detainees should also have access to certain information pertaining to them and should be able to request that inaccurate or obsolete data be corrected to prevent decisions being taken against them solely on the basis of unfavourable information present in the registers. Information about the dangerousness of the detainee should therefore be regularly reviewed.
It is therefore essential that there is strict control of records and compliance with procedures. A hierarchical list of personnel and corresponding responsibilities should be defined in the regulations.
Discrimination and groups in situations of vulnerability
The existence of records and their proper management contribute to improving the protection of all detainees from all forms of abuse due to discrimination. For instance, registers can be used to verify that the principle of separation of certain categories of prisoners (accused/ convicted, adults/ children, men/ women) is applied in practice. Records must also be able to be used during investigations into allegations of ill-treatment, abuse or arbitrary decisions motivated by discrimination. With the agreement of the persons concerned, recording certain sensitive information should also allow people to receive appropriate treatment or special services.
Whenever a woman is admitted to a facility, the name and age of all her children should, if necessary, be recorded in a file. If the children do not live with their mother, information about where they are and the person in charge of their care must also be entered in the register. Access to this information must be limited and controlled. Access to this information and its use should not be detrimental to the child.
Given their specific vulnerability, record keeping is particularly important for minors. Registers concerning them must include their identity, the facts they are accused of, date and time of admission, as well as transfers and releases. It is also important to record all notifications to parents or to people who were/are responsible for them at the time of the alleged crime.
It is important that the records not mention the sexual orientation and/ or gender identity of a person in custody unless the person expressly wants this information to appear and that this information is not used against them. Recording this information should not mean that the other inmates are automatically separated or their rights restricted. For transgender people, information contained in the records concerning gender identity should not be based solely on the biological sex of the persons concerned.
Foreigners or persons from a minority who do not speak the local language at the time of admission should not be discriminated against. If necessary, those in charge of records must call an interpreter to ensure that the information entered in the register is correct. In some contexts, the nationality and ethnic background of people is recorded for statistical purposes. This information should not be held against the persons concerned. Its sole purpose is to better manage public policies.
The information contained in records and files relating to individual persons living with disabilities should never be used in a discriminatory manner. On the contrary, it should instead be used to direct them to centres and services best suited to their needs or, to ensure reasonable accommodation is provided in order for them to be treated on an equal footing with other detainees.
Legal standards (11) Print
International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced disappearance
Each State Party shall assure the compilation and maintenance of one or more up-to-date official registers and/or records of persons deprived of liberty, which shall be made promptly available, upon request, to any judicial or other competent authority or institution authorized for that purpose by the law of the State Party concerned or any relevant international legal instrument to which the State concerned is a party. The information contained therein shall include, as a minimum:
( a ) The identity of the person deprived of liberty;
( b ) The date, time and place where the person was deprived of liberty and the identity of the authority that deprived the person of liberty;
( c ) The authority that ordered the deprivation of liberty and the grounds for the deprivation of liberty;
( d ) The authority responsible for supervising the deprivation of liberty;
( e ) The place of deprivation of liberty, the date and time of admission to the place of deprivation of liberty and the authority responsible for the place of deprivation of liberty;
( f ) Elements relating to the state of health of the person deprived of liberty;
( g ) In the event of death during the deprivation of liberty, the circumstances and cause of death and the destination of the remains;
( h ) The date and time of release or transfer to another place of detention, the destination and the authority responsible for the transfer.
Subject to articles 19 and 20, each State Party shall guarantee to any person with a legitimate interest in this information, such as relatives of the person deprived of liberty, their representatives or their counsel, access to at least the following information:
( a ) The authority that ordered the deprivation of liberty;
( b ) The date, time and place where the person was deprived of liberty and admitted to the place of deprivation of liberty;
( c ) The authority responsible for supervising the deprivation of liberty;
( d ) The whereabouts of the person deprived of liberty, including, in the event of a transfer to another place of deprivation of liberty, the destination and the authority responsible for the transfer;
( e ) The date, time and place of release;
( f ) Elements relating to the state of health of the person deprived of liberty;
( g ) In the event of death during the deprivation of liberty, the circumstances and cause of death and the destination of the remains.
Without prejudice to article 6, each State Party shall take the necessary measures to prevent and impose sanctions for the following conduct:
( b ) Failure to record the deprivation of liberty of any person, or the recording of any information which the official responsible for the official register knew or should have known to be inaccurate;
Convention on the Rights of the Child
States Parties shall ensure that:
(b) No child shall be deprived of his or her liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily. The arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child shall be in conformity with the law and shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time;
United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Nelson Mandela Rules)
There shall be a standardized prisoner file management system in every place where persons are imprisoned. Such a system may be an electronic database of records or a registration book with numbered and signed pages. Procedures shall be in place to ensure a secure audit trail and to prevent unauthorized access to or modification of any information contained in the system.
No person shall be received in a prison without a valid commitment order. The following information shall be entered in the prisoner file management system upon admission of every prisoner:
(a) Precise information enabling determination of his or her unique identity, respecting his or her self-perceived gender;
(b) The reasons for his or her commitment and the responsible authority, in addition to the date, time and place of arrest;
(c) The day and hour of his or her admission and release as well as of any transfer;
(d) Any visible injuries and complaints about prior ill-treatment;
(e) An inventory of his or her personal property;
(f) The names of his or her family members, including, where applicable, his or her children, the children’s ages, location and custody or guardianship status;
(g) Emergency contact details and information on the prisoner’s next of kin.
Rule 7 (a)
No person shall be received in a prison without a valid commitment order. The following information shall be entered in the prisoner file management system upon admission of every prisoner: [...]
Precise information enabling determination of his or her unique identity, respecting his or her self-perceived gender [...]
The following information shall be entered in the prisoner file management system in the course of imprisonment, where applicable:
(a) Information related to the judicial process, including dates of court hearings and legal representation;
(b) Initial assessment and classification reports;
(c) Information related to behaviour and discipline;
(d) Requests and complaints, including allegations of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, unless they are of a confidential nature;
(e) Information on the imposition of disciplinary sanctions;
(f) Information on the circumstances and causes of any injuries or death and, in the case of the latter, the destination of the remains.
All records referred to in rules 7 and 8 shall be kept confidential and made available only to those whose professional responsibilities require access to such records. Every prisoner shall be granted access to the records pertaining to him or her, subject to redactions authorized under domestic legislation, and shall be entitled to receive an official copy of such records upon his or her release.
Prisoner file management systems shall also be used to generate reliable data about trends relating to and characteristics of the prison population, including occupancy rates, in order to create a basis for evidence-based decision-making.
1. The health-care service shall prepare and maintain accurate, up-to-date and confidential individual medical files on all prisoners, and all prisoners should be granted access to their files upon request. A prisoner may appoint a third party to access his or her medical file.
2. Medical files shall be transferred to the health-care service of the receiving institution upon transfer of a prisoner and shall be subject to medical confidentiality.
Prison administrations shall ensure proportionality between a disciplinary sanction and the offence for which it is established, and shall keep a proper record of all disciplinary sanctions imposed.
Body of principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment
Arrest, detention or imprisonment shall only be carried out strictly in accordance with the provisions of the law and by competent officials or persons authorized for that purpose.
There shall be duly recorded:
(a) The reasons for the arrest;
(b) The time of the arrest and the taking of the arrested person to a place of custody as well as that of his first appearance before a judicial or other authority;
(c) The identity of the law enforcement officials concerned;
(d) Precise information concerning the place of custody.
Such records shall be communicated to the detained person, or his counsel, if any, in the form prescribed by law.
UN Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-Custodial Measures for Women Offenders (Bangkok Rules)
The number and personal details of the children of a woman being admitted to prison shall be recorded at the time of admission. The records shall include, without prejudicing the rights of the mother, at least the names of the children, their ages and, if not accompanying the mother, their location and custody or guardianship status.
All information relating to the children‟s identity shall be kept confidential, and the use of such information shall always comply with the requirement to take into account the best interests of the children.
United Nations Rules for the Protection of Juveniles Deprived of their Liberty
No juvenile should be received in any detention facility without a valid commitment order of a judicial, administrative or other public authority. The details of this order should be immediately entered in the register. No juvenile should be detained in any facility where there is no such register.
In every place where juveniles are detained, a complete and secure record of the following information should be kept concerning each juvenile received:
(a) Information on the identity of the juvenile;
(b) The fact of and reasons for commitment and the authority therefor;
(c) The day and hour of admission, transfer and release;
(d) Details of the notifications to parents and guardians on every admission, transfer or release of the juvenile in their care at the time of commitment;
(e) Details of known physical and mental health problems, including drug and alcohol abuse.
The information on admission, place, transfer and release should be provided without delay to the parents and guardians or closest relative of the juvenile concerned.
As soon as possible after reception, full reports and relevant information on the personal situation and circumstances of each juvenile should be drawn up and submitted to the administration.
European Prison Rules
No person shall be admitted to or held in a prison as a prisoner without a valid commitment order, in accordance with national law.
At admission the following details shall be recorded immediately concerning each prisoner:
a. information concerning the identity of the prisoner;
b. the reasons for commitment and the authority for it;
c. the day and hour of admission;
d. an inventory of the personal property of the prisoner that is to be held in safekeeping in accordance with Rule 31;
e. any visible injuries and complaints about prior ill-treatment; and
f. subject to the requirements of medical confidentiality, any information about the prisoner’s health that is relevant to the physical and mental well-being of the prisoner or others.
At admission all prisoners shall be given information in accordance with Rule 30.
Immediately after admission notification of the detention of the prisoner shall be given in accordance with Rule 24.9.
Robben Island Guidelines for the prevention of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in Africa
States should ensure that comprehensive written records of those deprived of their liberty are kept at each place of detention, detailing, inter alia, the date, time, place and reason for the detention.
Principles and Best Practices on the Protection of Persons Deprived of Liberty in the Americas
Principe IX - 2
The personal data of persons admitted to places of deprivation of liberty shall be recorded into an official registry, which shall be made available to the person deprived of liberty, his or her representative, and the competent authorities. The registry shall include, as a minimum the following information:
a. Personal information including, at least, the following: name, age, sex, nationality, address and name of parents, family members, legal representatives or defense counsel if applicable, or other relevant data of the persons deprived of liberty;
b. Information concerning the personal integrity and the state of health of the persons deprived of liberty;
c. Reason or grounds for the deprivation of liberty;
d. The authority that ordered or authorized the deprivation of liberty; e. The authority that conducted the person deprived of liberty to the institution;
f. The authority legally responsible for supervising the deprivation of liberty;
g. Time and date of admission and release;
h. Time and date of transfers to another place and the destination;
i. Identity of the authority who ordered the transfer and of the one who is responsible for it;
j. Inventory of personal effects; and
k. Signature of the persons deprived of liberty, or where this is impossible, an explanation about the reasons thereof.
d) Maintain accurate and up to date records of all arrests and detentions, indicating the date, location and reason for detention, and ensure independent oversight of all places of detention by bodies that are adequately mandated and equipped to identify arrests and detentions that may be motivated by the sexual orientation or gender identity of a person
Guidelines on the Conditions of Arrest, Police Custody and Pre-Trial Detention in Africa
15. General Provisions
b. Access to the register shall be provided to the arrested or detained person, his or her lawyer or other legal service provider, family members, and any other authority or organisation with a mandate to visit places of detention or to provide oversight on the treatment of persons deprived of their liberty.
16. Information to be recorded in arrest, custody and pre-trial detention registers
All registers shall contain the following information, as a minimum:
a. The identity, age and address of the person, and the contact information of another person responsible for the care or custody of the person, if applicable.
b. The date, time and place that:
i. the person was arrested or detained;
ii. the person was notified of the reasons for arrest or detention;
iii. a record of the arrest or detention was made in the register; and
iv. notification of the arrest or detention to a third person of the arrested person’s choice took place.
c. The identity of the officers involved in the arrest or detention.
d. Observations on the state of the mental and physical health of the arrested or detained person (including any visible physical injuries), and whether they requested or required medical assistance or reasonable accommodation, with due respect for medical confidentiality.
e. An itemised account of any personal items belonging to the detained person taken by the arresting or detaining authority.
f. The date, time and place of any transfers, and the identity of the official(s) responsible for, and involved in, that transfer.
g. Any complaints raised by the arrested or detained person.
19. Additional information to be recorded in pre-trial detention registers
In addition to the requirements set out in sections 15 and 16 of these Guidelines, official pre-trial detention registers shall also set out:
a. The name of the authority supervising the pre-trial detention.
b. The time and date of the pre-trial detention order, and the name of the judicial authority who ordered the initial, extended and continuing pre-trial detention.
c. The next date of review of the pre-trial detention orders by the relevant judicial authority.
Questions for monitors (20) Print
What types of files and records exist in the place of detention?
Are records computerized, hand-written or a mix of both?
Do the types of prison records vary from one place of detention to another?
Does the central government have access to the records?
Are custody records kept rigorously? Is the information contained in the registers entered in chronological order? Are there indications that information has been deleted or added afterward?
Is there identical information in several records?
Is the chain of responsibility for the conduct and control of records clear and respected? Is it enshrined in law and/ or regulation?
Does the information contained in the records and especially in individual files help prevent the risk of enforced disappearance and arbitrary detention?
Is the information contained in the records and especially in individual files restricted to certain authorised persons?
Do detainees have access to the information contained in the records?
Who has access to the medical records?
In the case where records are computerised, how is access to information controlled?
Can confidential data be destroyed after a certain period of time after release? Is this enshrined in legislation?
Does information contained in the individual files provide information about care and adequate follow-up of people’s conditions? Who oversees the files and who has access?
For female prisoners with children, do the admission registers contain information on the age and name of their children, where they are and who is responsible?
Do the children’s records include notifications to parents or those in charge?
Do files and records include information about sexual orientation and gender identity of inmates? If so, how is this information used? Is this type of information recorded with the consent of the persons concerned?
On admission, are foreigners or minorities that do not speak the local language informed of the content with the help of an interpreter?
Do records include information on the nationality of individuals and their ethnicity? If so, how is this information used?
Do records include information about possible physical or mental disabilities of detainees? How is this information used?