International Oversight

The principle that the inspection and monitoring of prisons can promote the protection of human rights and, specifically, prevent torture and ill-treatment, has become well established in international human rights law.
- Prof. Mary Rogan, trinity College Dublin

The U.S. is unlike most other Western nations, which have formal and robust correctional oversight mechanisms. Learning about the structure and functions of some of these international oversight bodies can help policymakers and practitioners better understand a variety of models of effective correctional oversight.

The Human Rights Framework

Through a series of international treaties designed to strengthen efforts to protect human rights, the United Nations created a framework for correctional oversight that many countries have since adopted.

United Nations logo
Photo credit: United Nations,

A Sampling of International Correctional Oversight Bodies


Supranational oversight bodies have either a worldwide or regional reach and are responsible for monitoring conditions of confinement in multiple countries. Monitoring teams comprise representatives of numerous countries.


National oversight bodies monitor conditions of confinement in the prisons of specific countries. Many of these bodies are designated as one of the country’s National Preventive Mechanisms (NPM), though some exist separate and apart from the NPM designation. Many countries, notably England and Wales, have multiple oversight bodies, each responsible for different oversight functions. A sampling of these oversight bodies is described here, though this listing is far from comprehensive.


International standards for the treatment of persons deprived of their liberty provide guidance to international oversight bodies in their effort to assess the conditions of prisons and other places of detention. A sampling of these standards include:

Professional Associations