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Bilateral aid agencies, international development institutions such as the United Nations, World Bank, and InterAmerican Development Bank, and private organizations such as the American Bar Association, Ibrahim Foundation, and Open Society Institute are all promoting new and often inventive ways of measuring justice and safety. Some of these measurement projects have global reach, with indicators for several countries on five continents.
Most global measurement projects treat the country as the unit of analysis, not the splintered system of governance for justice and safety that comprises the sector, and most compare the quality of justice, safety, or rule of law along some scale, typically with rankings. But in practice there is great diversity. Some projects use treaties or legal concepts by which to derive indicators, while others build measures for special policy issues, such as arms, drugs, prisons, corruption, or the consequences of injustice and insecurity. Some measurement projects share data bases and sources, while others compete with one another and also with efforts launched in the Global South. Even within the family of UN organizations, global measurement is a diverse affair. UNICEF, UNDP, UNDPKO, OHCHR, and UNWOMEN have distinct ambitions, separate measures, and different theories of change.
Beneath global measures of justice and safety lie notions of good and bad practices that may or may not be welcome in developing countries. One example is the most popular measure of the extent of pretrial detention – the proportion of all prison inmates that are un-sentenced or un-convicted on any given day. Sometimes called a “rate” of detention, the measure is appealing because it is easy to calculate: virtually every prison system in the world can quickly and reliably generate this indicator. But as the paper on Prison Exit Samples as a Tool of Development shows, this indicator makes countries with few arrests or and small formal justice systems look deviant.
The table below lists countries with high rates of pretrial detention according to two different measures - the percent of all prison inmates that are un-sentenced at the end of the year, and the number of detainees per 100,000 residents. Only the denominator distinguishes these measures, and yet that distinction alone reverses the rank of a country on an international scale. The Harvard project will conduct tests of these and other global indicators at workshops designed to support the field of international development.
Source: World Prison Brief, International Center for Prison Studies, Kings College, University of London