Back Anti-torture committee warns against the impact of austerity measures on the conditions of detention in prisons

The Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) today issued a set of minimum requirements for conditions of detention in European prisons, concerned by the negative effects of pre-existing austerity measures in certain states, which could be exacerbated by possible deeper budgetary restrictions due to the long-term impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Anti-torture committee warns against the impact of austerity measures on the conditions of detention in prisons

In its annual report for 2020, the CPT recalls that in many of its visits over the years it has found a failure to meet the basic needs of prisoners in certain establishments, which could lead to situations in which prisoners are exposed to inhuman and degrading treatment.

The Committee points out that that in several Council of Europe states the Covid-19 pandemic is taking place within a budgetary crisis in prison systems which affects prison budgets and the prison staff. During its visits the CPT has increasingly found that significant cuts have affected the quality of living of detainees, in issues such as food, heating, the regime of activities, access to work and time outside cells.

The CPT notes that austerity measures can increase poverty among prisoners, make items scarcer or more expensive, and restrict inmates´ contact by telephone with their families or their ability to make small purchases. This problem can particularly affect prisoners with no income from their families or outside sources, who constitute a significant proportion of the prison population in many countries.

“Persons deprived of their liberty in prisons or in any other institution have a right to enjoy adequate living conditions. It is crucial to underline that certain of the fundamental social and economic rights of detained persons are indivisible from their right to be treated humanely. A threshold of decency should be respected in prisons at all times, including in the context of austerity measures triggered by economic crises”, said the President of the CPT, Alan Mitchell.

The Committee considers that all persons deprived of liberty should be provided, at minimum, with ready access to sufficient clean drinking water, adequate food in quantity and nutritional value, decent sleeping and living conditions, and the means to keep clean. Other essential minimal requirements are having ready access to adequate health-care services, effective access to work and its fair remuneration, access to other purposeful activities and to regular contact with the outside world.

Further, the annual report recalls that on 20 March 2020 the CPT was the first Council of Europe body to issue substantive guidance to members states on the pandemic: the Statement of principles relating to the treatment of persons deprived of their liberty in the context of the coronavirus pandemic, which was made available to member states in 26 languages. To fulfil its mandate during this period, the CPT also developed an internal operational guidance on the appropriate protective measures against Covid-19 in order to continue visiting places of deprivation of liberty.

The report also contains the key findings and recommendations of the 18 visit reports published by the CPT in 2020 and information about the 14 visits to member states during the year. Twelve of these visits were carried out between July and December, in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, with adequate hygiene and protective measures.

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