UNICRI was established by the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) following Resolution 1086, which urged an expansion of United Nations activities in crime prevention and criminal justice. The Institute is an autonomous institution of the United Nations, and is presently ruled by the Statute adopted by ECOSOC with Resolution No.1989/56 of 24 May 1989. UNICRI operates within the framework of the United Nations Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Programme Network.
The Institute carries out action-oriented research and training and implements technical cooperation programmes. It aims to assist governments and the international community at large in tackling criminal threats to social peace, development and political stability and in fostering the development of just and efficient criminal justice systems.
UNICRI supports the formulation and implementation of improved policies in the field of crime prevention and criminal justice, the promotion of national self-reliance, and the development of institutional capabilities. The Institute works to advance the understanding of crime-related problems, supporting the respect for international instruments and standards. It facilitates the exchange and dissemination of information, cooperation in international law enforcement and judicial assistance.
UNICRI structures its activities to meet the identified needs of member States. Its programme activities arise from priorities identified by the UN Annual Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Commission. The Institute's current priorities include, amongst others, activities related to organized crime, judicial reform, international criminal law, juvenile justice, security and counter-terrorism, major event security, urban security, corruption, victim protection, domestic violence, counterfeiting, cybercrime, crimes against the environment, and gender issues in drug abuse.
The Institute is governed by a Board of Trustees composed of eminent experts from different countries.