The European Parliament’s civil liberties committee has called on national authorities to address the issue of overcrowding in prisons – which may fuel radicalisation – by opting for alternatives to imprisonment whenever possible.

In a resolution voted on October 5, MEPs said EU member states should improve prison conditions across the EU, so as to protect the health and wellbeing of inmates and staff, favour rehabilitation and reduce the risk of radicalisation. To help prevent radicalisation, MEPs also recommend staff training, prison intelligence, interfaith dialogue and psychological care.

“In most EU countries, civil society has turned away from its jails, most of which are old and overcrowded,” said Joëlle Bergeron (EFDD, FR), Parliament’s rapporteur. “It is time to adopt a more humane conception of prison life, banning prisons which are too large, boosting alternatives to incarceration and adapting the institutions to the detainees’ profile. Since this is a national competence, EU institutions should guide countries towards a management of prisons and prisoners which is more consistent with human rights.”

According to the parliament, imprisonment, and especially pre-trial detention, should be a last-resort option, reserved for legally justified cases, and consider it particularly inappropriate for vulnerable individuals such as minors, the elderly, pregnant women and people with serious illnesses.

For convicts who do not present a serious danger to society, MEPs said alternatives to prison should include detention at home, community service and electronic tagging.

MEPs also warned against the increasing privatisation of prison systems. They said this may worsen detention conditions and undermine respect for fundamental rights.

Based on Eurostat data compiled In 2014, prisons across the EU were holding over half a million inmates, including both convicted persons, serving their final sentence, and persons accused of a crime who were on remand.