The Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) has 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. 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 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 prison staff. During its visits the CPT has increasingly found that significant cuts have affected detainees’ quality of living, concerning issues such as food, heating, the activities regime, 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’ telephone contact 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 CPT President Alan Mitchell.
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.
In 2021, the CPT has already carried out periodic visits to Serbia, Sweden Switzerland and Turkey and is planning to visit to Austria, Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Russia and the United Kingdom.