Prison : presentation
 
General information

Strengthening the rule of law and crime control in Europe

The Prisons and Police Unit of the Legal and Human Rights Capacity Building Department (Directorate of Co-operation, Directorate General of Human Rights and Legal Affairs) plays a major role in assisting the beneficiary countries to integrate the Council of Europe and CPT standards in their penitentiary and law enforcement institutions.

Through bilateral co-operation activities and projects, focus is mainly placed on the enhancement of the capacity-building in the form of training (training-of-trainers and cascade training sessions) and on expert assistance and advice on European standards. A direct link is made to the findings and recommendations of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) (www.cpt.coe.int); the case law of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) (www.echr.coe.int); the reports of the Commissioner for Human Rights (www.commissioner.coe.int) in respect of each beneficiary country and to the standards of the Recommendations of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe (CM/CoE) in the prisons and police field, mainly Rec. (2006)2) on the European Prison Rules (EPR) and Rec(2001)10 on the European Code of Police Ethics (ECPE). The cooperation activities and projects contribute largely to addressing the immediate needs of the beneficiary countries and to assist them to meet their obligations for the protection of human rights in prisons and police custody. It is the link among the cooperation activities and projects, the Council of Europe standards and the monitoring mechanisms that provides for a sound basis for the support of the CoE to the beneficiary countries.

The Council of Europe has a unique experience in promoting more humane and socially effective prisons and a number of legal instruments have been adapted to this end. The EPR and other relevant Recommendations in the field of prisons have been brought together in one publication, the Compendium of conventions, recommendations and resolutions related to penitentiary issues. The Council of Europe works with member states also to develop non-custodial sanctions and measures, promoting a more creative approach to crime and punishment and raising awareness of the Council of Europe standards among national penitentiary authorities in this field.

The Council of Europe bodies in charge of issues related to crime control

The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR)

The European Convention on Human Rights is an international treaty under which the member States of the Council of Europe promise to secure fundamental civil and political rights, not only to their own citizens but also to everyone within their jurisdiction. The Convention, which was signed on 4 November 1950 in Rome, entered into force in 1953.

The Convention identifies the rights and freedoms to be protected and its 14 Articles define the scope of the human rights covered. Subsequently it has been expanded and enriched by protocols NN 1, 4, 6, 7 and 13. It also provides for the mechanism for the protection of human rights, the ECtHR and sets down respective proceedings. Due to its subsidiary nature the mechanism can be invoked only when and if it is regarded by applicants that states have failed to protect rights and freedoms enshrined in the Convention on the domestic level.

The European Court of Human Rights is an international court set up in 1959. It rules on individual or State applications alleging violations of the civil and political rights set out in the European Convention on Human Rights. Since 1998 it has sat as a full-time court and individuals can apply to it directly.

The European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (ECPT) and the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT)

The CPT was set up by the CoE’s “European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment” (ECPT), which came into force in 1989. It builds on Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights which provides that “No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”.

The CPT is not an investigative body, but provides non-judicial preventive machinery to protect persons deprived of their liberty against torture and other forms of ill-treatment. It thus complements the judicial work of the ECtHR. The CPT was established under the ECPT for the purpose of visiting places of detentions and assisting states in addressing shortcomings in the law and practice concerning the standards embodied in the Convention and its recommendations. The CPT has developed standards relating to the treatment of persons deprived of their liberty.

The CPT visit reports, government responses, public statements and general reports are available on the CPT’s website: www.cpt.coe.int)

The Commissioner for Human Rights

The Commissioner for Human Rights is an independent institution within the Council of Europe, mandated to promote the awareness of and respect for human rights in 47 Council of Europe member states.

The fundamental objectives of the Commissioner for Human Rights are laid out in Resolution (99) 50 on the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights. According to this resolution, the Commissioner is mandated to foster the effective observance of human rights, and assists member states in the implementation of Council of Europe human rights standards; promote education in and awareness of human rights in Council of Europe member states; identify possible shortcomings in the law and practice concerning human rights; facilitate the activities of national ombudsperson institutions and other human rights structures and provide advice and information regarding the protection of human rights across the region.

The Commissioner’s work thus focuses on encouraging reform measures to achieve tangible improvement in the area of human rights promotion and protection. Being a non-judicial institution, the Commissioner’s Office cannot act upon individual complaints, but the Commissioner can draw conclusions and take wider initiatives on the basis of reliable information regarding human rights violations suffered by individuals.

European Committee on Crime Problems (CDPC)

Set up in 1958, the European Committee on Crime Problems (CDPC) (www.coe.int/CDPC) was entrusted by the CM with the responsibility of overseeing and coordinating the Council of Europe’s activities in the field of crime prevention and crime control. The CDPC meets at the headquarters of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg (France).

The CDPC identifies priorities for intergovernmental legal co-operation, makes proposals to the Committee of Ministers on activities in the fields of criminal law and procedure, criminology and penology, and implements these activities.

The CDPC elaborates conventions, agreements, recommendations and reports. Since 1980-ies it organises criminological research conferences and criminological colloquia, conferences of directors of prison administration.

The Council for Penological Cooperation (PC-CP) is a standing advisory body to the CDPC which follows the developments of the prison systems and the services concerned with the execution of alternatives to custody in Europe and makes proposals to the CDPC in this respect.

The Directorate of Standard Setting of the Directorate General of Human Rights and Legal Affairs of the Council of Europe collects since almost 30 years already, Council of Europe Annual Penal Statistics SPACE I, containing data on prison population and on the penitentiary staff as well as SPACE II, containing data also being collected since the year 2000 on non-custodial sanctions and measures (www.coe.int/prisons).