Europe wants to end prison overcrowding

The Council of Europe called on Thursday to set a “ceiling” number of detainees in each prison and to develop alternative measures to detention, in order to fight against “persistent prison overcrowding” in several European states.

Dangers for defendants

Prison overcrowding “puts all prisoners, as well as prison staff, at risk and undermines efforts to reintegrate them,” said Alan Mitchell, Chairman of the Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT), presenting the report. of this body of the Council of Europe.

The CPT reports a “prison density” which has decreased on average in Europe between 2020 and 2021, from 91 to 85 prisoners per 100 places, due in particular to the health measures taken during the Covid-19 epidemic and the decline in judicial activity linked to confinements.

Too much prison density

Several countries nevertheless maintain a “significant” prison overcrowding, such as Romania (119%), Greece (111%), Belgium (108%), Turkey (108%) or Italy (106%), notes the CPT. France (104%), Sweden (101%) or Hungary (101%) are also faced with this problem, while their Spanish (74%), Finnish (80%) or German (82%) neighbors appear good students.

The CPT suggests “setting an absolute upper limit” to the number of prisoners in each prison, respecting a “minimum living space” of 4 m² in collective cells and 6 m² in individual cells. In some establishments visited by the Committee, “the living space was less than 2 m² per person” for confinement for 23 hours a day, creating a terrain “conducive to the aggravation of tensions”, note the rapporteurs.

A European Mission

The Committee also points to the increase in the number of detainees in certain countries since the end of the measures linked to the pandemic (confinements, specific measures linked to detention to limit overcrowding due to Covid, etc.). This increase “could increase the number of overcrowded prisons in the future”, he warns.

Among its main missions, the CPT visits places of deprivation of liberty in the member states of the Council of Europe, a pan-European organization based in Strasbourg, in order to assess the way in which persons held or detained are treated.

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