Use detention only as last resort, Council of Europe urges member states

Use detention only as last resort, Council of Europe urges member states


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In many European countries the persistent problem of overcrowding in prisons is due to a large extent to the high proportion of remand prisons among the total prison population.

In its annual report, published today, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) stresses the need for member states to ensure the use, to the extent possible, of alternative measures to pre-trial detention such as provisional suspension of detention, bail, house arrest, electronic monitoring, removal of passports and judicial supervision. In the CPT’s view, these measures should also be considered for foreign nationals, who are frequently held on remand because they are considered to constitute a higher risk of flight.

The Council of Europe´s Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland said: “The CPT has regularly identified serious shortcomings in the conditions in which pre-trial prisoners are held in Europe. I call on states to ensure that their conditions of detention are in line with human rights standards and that pre-trial detention is only applied if absolutely necessary, which can help to reduce prison overcrowding.”

Within Europe, the frequency and duration of remand detention appears to differ enormously from one country to another, with the proportion of remand prisoners of the total prison population ranging from 8% to 70%. On average, some 25% of all prisoners in Council of Europe member states have not yet received a final sentence, according to the Council of Europe Penal Statistics (SPACE). For foreign nationals, this proportion is significantly higher (around 40%).

In its annual report, the CPT also welcomes that, in 2016, Austria, Finland, Monaco and Sweden authorised the automatic publication of CPT reports, thus joining Bulgaria, Luxembourg, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine, which had agreed to this practice previously. As a rule, CPT reports are published at the request of the member states concerned.

On Wednesday, the CPT had published a separate report in which warned that in UK prisons violence is ‘out of control’. The same can be said about prisons in countries such as France and Belgium.

The CPT report warned there were “weaknesses” in the way violent incidents are recorded. A wave of serious disturbances and decline in safety standards led to ministers launching a reform programme.

It said it was “deeply concerned by the amount of severe generalised violence evident in each of the prisons visited”, adding that this was both violence between prisoners and attacks on staff by inmates.

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