Human Rights in Closed Environments
Bronwyn Naylor, Julie Debeljak and Anita Mackay (eds); The Federation Press, 2014; 294 pages; $59.59 (softcover).
According human rights in ‘closed’ environments — where individuals are detained against their will — is an inherently difficult enterprise, as this collection of essays powerfully demonstrates. The collection defines closed environments as those in which individuals are or may be deprived of their liberty because they are, by lawful authority, denied permission to leave at will. The environments considered include prisons, police cells, closed mental health and disability units, and immigration detention centres. The contributors come from academic and practice backgrounds, with many having experience on bodies with oversight responsibilities for particular closed environments. The editors propose a ‘three pronged strategic framework for implementing human rights in closed environments’ (page 2), which is developed in individual contributions and across the entire collection. The ‘three prongs’ include a regulatory regime that combines international human rights obligations, comprehensive national human rights legislation — noticeably absent in Australia — and ‘environment-specific legislation’ (page 3) translating general rights into rights, duties, and policies that are carefully targeted towards the closed environment in question. The other prongs are effective and independent external monitoring mechanisms, and ‘culture change’ — in other words, ensuring that formal commitments to rights recognition are translated into institutional cultures that are genuinely respectful of human rights.