The Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) is calling on European states with persistent prison overcrowding to address this problem with determination by setting a maximum threshold to the number of prisoners in every penal institution - to be strictly respected - and by increasing the use of alternative measures to imprisonment.
In its annual report for 2021, the CPT underlines that although, over the years, some countries have achieved tangible progress in tackling prison overcrowding, this problem persists in many prisons systems, especially where remand prisoners are held. In addition, even in countries where overcrowding is not a problem in the entire prison system, particular prisons, parts of prisons or cells may be overcrowded.
“Prison overcrowding undermines any efforts to give practical meaning to the prohibition of torture and other forms of ill-treatment since it can result in a violation of human rights. It puts all the prisoners, especially the most vulnerable, and the prison staff at risk and undermines efforts to reintegrate prisoners into society. Governments should ensure that inmates have sufficient space to live with dignity in prison and that non-custodial measures are used adequately while ensuring that the criminal justice system provides appropriate protection to society”, said the CPT President, Alan Mitchell.
The report recalls that prison overcrowding is mainly the result of strict penal policies, often a more frequent and longer use of remand detention, lengthier prison sentences and still limited use of alternative measures to imprisonment.
Finally, the CPT warns that, with the end of the stricter measures to prevent Covid-19, the number of prisoners is increasing again in certain countries, which may result in a larger number of overcrowded prisons in the future. In 2021, the CPT carried out nine periodic visits (Austria, Bulgaria, Lithuania, the Russian Federation, Serbia, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey and the United Kingdom) and six ad hoc visits to examine specific issues (Albania, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Greece and Romania).