Open Society Justice Initiative

The Open Society Justice Initiative uses law to protect and empower people around the world. Through litigation, advocacy, research, and technical assistance, the Justice Initiative promotes human rights and builds legal capacity for open societies. Its efforts focus on accountability for international crimes, racial discrimination and statelessness, criminal justice reform, abuses related to national security and counterterrorism, freedom of information and expression, and natural resource corruption. Our staff is based in Abuja, Amsterdam, Bishkek, Brussels, Budapest, Freetown, The Hague, London, Mexico City, New York, Paris, Phnom Penh, Santo Domingo and Washington, D.C.

The Justice Initiative works on the following themes:


The Justice Initiative works to secure legal remedies for bribery, the theft of public assets, and money laundering arising from the exploitation of natural resources. See more about our work in anticorruption.

National Criminal Justice Reform

The Justice Initiative supports criminal justice reform, with a focus on arrest rights, torture in Central Asia, and pretrial justice. See more about our work in criminal justice reform.

Equality & Citizenship

The Justice Initiative documents and challenges statelessness and racial discrimination around the world.See more about our work in this area.

Freedom of Information & Expression

The Justice Initiative supports freedom of information laws and combats government interference with media freedom. See more about our work in this area.

International Justice

The Justice Initiative seeks to reduce the impunity for serious crimes by helping domestic and international tribunals conduct effective investigations, carry out fair trials, and engage victims and affected communities. See more about our work in international justice.

Legal Capacity Development

The Justice Initiative builds legal capacity by training and supporting lawyers, law students, and paralegals to work in underserved communities, to assist poor clients, and to advocate public interest cases. See more about our work in legal empowerment.

National Security & Counterterrorism

The Justice Initiative seeks redress for human rights violations committed in the name of national security or counterterrorism. See more about our work in national security and counterterrorism.

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Policy and Research Papers

The Socioeconomic Impact of Pretrial Detention

This report is presented as a nascent effort to catalogue the socioeconomic impact of excessive pretrial detention around the world. As discussed in Section II, precise data on pretrial detention are rare. Rarer still are rigorous cost (or cost-benefit) analyses of pretrial detention. Although there are extant studies from Mexico (summarized in Appendix 1), Chile, Argentina, and Ukraine, the literature is thin. This report, then, may be seen as both an initial foray and an appeal for additional research. 


Pretrial Detention and Torture: Why Pretrial Detainees Face the Greatest Risk

This paper highlights the risk of abuse faced by pretrial detainees and identifies some of the systemic factors that perpetuate torture and other ill-treatment. Research referenced in this paper is largely drawn from the fact-finding missions of former UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Manfred Nowak and his team, as well as a review of reports by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture, other relevant UN treaty bodies, and non-governmental organizations. 


Improving Pre-Trial Justice - The Role of Lawyers and Paralegals

On any given day, some three million people are held in pretrial detention around the world. Countless millions are unnecessarily arrested and detained by law enforcement agencies annually. Those in pretrial detention are often held in conditions and subject to treatment that is far worse than that experienced by sentenced prisoners. Pretrial detainees—who have not been tried or found guilty—can languish behind bars for years. Some detainees may literally be lost in the system. 

Lawyers and paralegals have a central role to play in advising, assisting, and representing individuals at the pretrial stage of the criminal process.  

This paper looks at the role of lawyers and paralegals in the pre-trial process and provides recommendations for governments and for legal aid organisations.


Pretrial Detention and Health: Unintended Consequences, Deadly Results

A Literature Review and Recommendations for Health Professionals.

This paper reports on a review of published and grey literature on health condi- tions and health services in pretrial detention in developing and transitional countries. This paper takes as its point of departure that the negative health impacts of excessive pretrial detention are an important reason to pursue pretrial justice reform. Problems identified in the literature are linked both to inadequate health services and to the health impact of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of detainees and failure of the state to ensure humane living conditions and protection from violence. Together these con- stitute pervasive and often heinous human rights abuses among people, not convicted of any crime, who are entirely in the control of the state. 


The Socioecononmic Impact of Pre-Trial Detention

Approximately 10 million people per year pass through pretrial detention; many of them will spend months or even years behind bars—without being tried or found guilty. Locking away millions of people who are presumed innocent is a waste of human potential that undermines economic development.

The economic effects of excessive pretrial detention—from lost wages to misspent government resources—are documented in a new report, The Socioeconomic Impact of Pretrial Detention , published by the Open Society Justice Initiative and the United Nations Development Program.

This study attempts for the first time to count the full cost of excessive pretrial detention, including lost employment, stunted economic growth, the spread of disease and corruption, and the misuse of state resources. Combining statistics, personal accounts, and recommendations for reform, The Socioeconomic Impact of Pretrial Detention  provides empirical arguments against the overuse of pretrial detention.


Pretrial Detention and Torture: Why Pretrial Detainees face the Greatest Risk

Torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment are not aberrations. They are common—even routine—in many detention facilities. Of the nearly ten million people in detention (including both pretrial and post-conviction detainees) around the world, those held in pretrial detention are most at risk of torture.

Pretrial detainees are wholly in the power of detaining authorities, many of whom perceive torture as the fastest way to obtain information or a confession and the easiest way to exercise physical and mental control over detainees. The practice is exacerbated by indiscriminate arrests, primarily of poor people without the resources to extricate themselves from detention; criminal justice systems that rely on confessions rather than good policing; official corruption; and public acceptance of torture.


Pretrial Detention and Health: Unintended Consequences, Deadly Results

Pretrial holding facilities in countries with developing and transitional economies often force detainees to live in filthy, over-crowded conditions, where they lack adequate health services. In the worst cases, detainees die; some centers are so bad that innocent people plead guilty just to be transferred to prisons where the conditions might be better.

For many pretrial detainees, being locked away in detention centers where tuberculosis, hepatitis C, and HIV are easily contracted can be a death sentence.

This paper, aimed at health professionals, presents a review of literature on health conditions and health services in pretrial detention in developing and transitional countries. It takes as its point of departure that the negative health impacts of excessive pretrial detention are an important reason to pursue pretrial justice reform.

Its recommendations include calling on health professionals to support monitoring and research efforts on the issues, as well supporting prison health officials and public engagement.


Improving Pretrial Justice: The Roles of Lawyers and Paralegals

On any particular day, around three million people are being held in pretrial detention, and during the course of a year an estimated 10 million people pass through pretrial detention.

The purpose of this paper is to demonstrate the positive impact that early intervention by lawyers and paralegals can have on pretrial justice generally—and on the use of pretrial detention in particular—and to provide a guide to the ways in which lawyer and paralegal schemes can be established. It sets out to demonstrate the benefits not only for the individuals who are advised and assisted, but for the efficiency and effectiveness of criminal justice systems, and for wider society.