EUR-Lex Access to European Union law

Back to EUR-Lex homepage

This document is an excerpt from the EUR-Lex website

Document 51998IP0369(01)

Resolution on prison conditions in the European Union: improvements and alternative penalties

OJ C 98, 9.4.1999, p. 299 (ES, DA, DE, EL, EN, FR, IT, NL, PT, FI, SV)


Resolution on prison conditions in the European Union: improvements and alternative penalties

Official Journal C 098 , 09/04/1999 P. 0299


Resolution on prison conditions in the European Union: improvements and alternative penalties

The European Parliament,

- having regard to the Treaty establishing the European Union,

- having regard to the draft Amsterdam Treaty,

- having regard to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the related case law,

- having regard to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and the protocols thereto,

- having regard to the case law of the European Court of Human Rights,

- having regard to the standard minimum rules for the treatment of prisoners adopted by the Council of Europe in 1973,

- having regard to the resolutions and recommendations of the Council of Europe on custody pending trial (R(80)11), prison leave ((R(82)16), custody and treatment of dangerous prisoners (R(82)17), foreign prisoners (R(84)12), and on the European rules on community sanctions and measures (R(92)16),

- having regard to the European Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons of 1983,

- having regard to the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment of 1987,

- having regard to Recommendation No R(87)3 adopted by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe on 12 February 1987, on the European prison rules,

- having regard to the report of 14 May 1998 by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) of the Council of Europe,

- having regard to its resolution of 12 April 1989 adopting the Declaration of fundamental rights and freedoms ((OJ C 120, 16.5.1989, p. 51.)),

- having regard to its resolutions of 17 September 1996 ((OJ C 320, 28.10.1996, p. 36.)), 8 April 1997 ((OJ C 132, 28.4.1997, p. 31.)) and 17 February 1998 ((OJ C 80, 16.3.1998, p. 43.)) on respect for human rights in the European Union,

- having regard to its resolution of 18 January 1996 on poor conditions in prisons in the European Union ((OJ C 32, 5.2.1996, p. 102.)),

- having regard to the motion for a resolution tabled by Mr Vandemeulebroucke and Mrs Aelvoet on visiting rights with regard to detainees, in particular in Great Britain (B4-1022/97),

- having regard to Rule 148 of its Rules of Procedure,

- having regard to the report of the Committee on Civil Liberties and Internal Affairs (A4-0369/98),

A. whereas, in addition to serving as a punishment for crimes, imprisonment should help to re-establish a more harmonious society by protecting property and effectively safeguarding the rights of persons and to make those serving prison sentences aware of their responsibilities and reintegrate them into society,

B. taking great account of the rights of victims and wishing to promote the principle that those found guilty should make amends for the harm caused to victims,

C. whereas there are major differences between the judicial and prison systems in use in the EU Member States, particularly as regards the use of alternative measures to prison and alternative penalties to short sentences,

D. whereas imprisonment often ends up being the only penal sanction for which provision is made and whereas alternative measures to prison or alternative penalties are likely to remain marginal or poorly understood by public opinion,

E. regretting that little use is made of alternative penalties, which are particularly appropriate in the case of sentences of less than one year, which are by far the most common sentences handed down in almost all EU countries,

F. welcoming the increased use of alternative measures to imprisonment and alternative penalties in the various systems for the flexibility they offer in enforcing sentences,

G. aware of the need for a systematic comparison of the way in which different legal and prison systems are developing, including the use of alternative measures and alternative penalties to short sentences and the need to achieve convergence between the different ways in which justice is practised in the Member States, despite the difficulties involved,

H. expressing concern at the extremely unfavourable conditions still to be found in many European prisons, in particular because there is no respect for the elementary human rights provided for in the international conventions and the constitutions of the Member States, a fact which seriously undermines the subsequent reintegration of prisoners into society,

I. expressing its full support for the objectives laid down by the Council of Europe, with particular regard to minimising the adverse effects of detention and the need to humanise sentences,

J. encouraged by the efforts being made by several Member States to improve the effectiveness of their prison systems to make them fairer and more human as regards prison conditions, the rehabilitation of prisoners and the construction of modern establishments,

K. concerned in particular by overcrowding in prisons in several Member States, which greatly reduces the likelihood of rehabilitation owing to its impact on the physical and mental health of prisoners and which undermines the working conditions of staff and the scope for work, educational, cultural and sporting activities,

L. whereas a large number of prisoners are addicted to illicit substances and are a danger to themselves and their fellow prisoners and, in general, increase the likelihood of malfunctions occurring in prisons (bribery attempts, etc.),

M. alarmed by the recent increase in the number of prison suicides in several European countries,

N. concerned by the frequency with which people are remanded in custody and the length of time they spend there, and firmly underlining the general principle that a defendant in a criminal trial is entitled to freedom and full enjoyment of rights; whereas the use of detention on remand involves not only anticipation of the outcome of a possible conviction and undeniable harm to the individual, but also a denial of the basic right to the presumption of innocence; whereas, therefore, it is only legitimate when absolutely necessary, justified and consistent with the need for precautionary protection of the interests, rights and values referred to in the relevant penal provisions,

1. Calls on the Member States to apply fully the Council of Europe's prison rules with particular regard to the rules on minimum health requirements covering the fitting-out of cells, food, clothing, heating and hygiene and access to health facilities, work, education and training and social and educational, cultural and sporting activities, all of which contribute to the dignity and social rehabilitation of prisoners; calls furthermore on the Member States to comply scrupulously with the recommendations of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and to implement the recommendations addressed to them;

2. Firmly believes that prisoners' families in particular should be taken into account, unless there are specific and justified grounds for not doing so (possible involvement in crime, mafia links, particular kinds of terrorism, etc.), by ensuring that wherever possible prisoners are held in a place close to the homes of their families and by encouraging family and conjugal visits with special areas set aside for this purpose, given that spouses and children always play an extremely positive role in helping prisoners to change their ways, become more responsible and re-establish themselves in society; requests furthermore that, where both spouses are deprived of their freedom, unless the treatment they require or security considerations make it inadvisable, steps should be taken to allow them to live together, with special mixed sections set up for this purpose;

3. Points out that depriving someone of their freedom of movement does not mean depriving them of all fundamental freedoms, whence the imperative need for due respect to be shown for freedom of thought, opinion, expression and political or religious beliefs, civil rights, and in particular the right to administer one's own property, unless that right has been explicitly withdrawn by the court;

4. Requests that all Member States of the European Union should set to work on drafting a fundamental prison law laying down a legal framework which regulates the internal (substantive) legal position, the external legal position, the right of complaint and the obligations of prisoners and provides for an independent supervisory body to which prisoners can turn in the event of violation of their rights;

5. Takes the view that special security regimes within prisons should be allowable only in exceptional circumstances on the basis of laws which lay down the conditions under which such regimes can be imposed and the maximum duration thereof and specify the rights of defence and the right of appeal of prisoners;

6. Deplores all racial, ethnic, national or religious discrimination inside prisons and calls in particular for vulnerable groups to be protected against hostile behaviour on the part of fellow prisoners or members of the prison staff;

7. Stresses that any application with regard to prison sentences, particularly for a sentence to be reduced or for the conditions under which it is being served to be changed, should be examined by a specialist legal body different from that which handed down the sentence;

8. Calls on the authorities to make provision within prisons for the greatest possible range of opportunities for work and for cultural education and sports training, which are vital for efficient and effective preparation of prisoners for a return to society;

9. Emphasises that, where cell-sharing cannot be avoided, a careful attribution is needed;

10. Calls on the Member States to take all appropriate measures to solve the problem of threats and acts of aggression against staff and prisoners;

11. Points out that all medical services provided in prisons should offer prisoners the same standards of treatment as that provided to the general public in the country and in particular that prisoners should have immediate access to a doctor on night duty;

12. Calls for a proper medical examination for every prisoner on commencement of sentence, and calls for health education and an understanding of how the body works; also stresses the importance of a medical follow-up on release from prison;

13. Draws attention to the specific case of internees and calls for them to be placed in suitable detention conditions with appropriate psychiatric supervision;

14. Calls on the Member States to ensure the strict application of the World Health Organisation directive laying down principles on which to base measures to combat HIV infection and AIDS in prisons;

15. Urges the Member States to introduce legal provisions which, on humanitarian grounds and in the interests of personal dignity, will allow prisoners suffering from serious illness and incurable diseases to spend the final period of their lives with their families and, where their families are not in a position to take them in, that the prison authorities should establish the necessary relations for this purpose with associations and NGOs involved in the care of patients of this kind;

16. Draws attention to the specific needs of women prisoners, particularly during pregnancy, childbirth and infancy; calls for childcare facilities to be provided on the spot for children of women prisoners, at least until they reach two years of age; points out that, with a view also to eliminating any discrimination in the family and school life of children who are required to stay with their mother and provided that the latter's conditions of imprisonment so allow, efforts should be made to place both mother and child in special units located outside prison premises;

17. Takes the view that minors do not belong in prisons; calls for the introduction of constructive, humane laws on penalties for young offenders in the Member States, geared to the responsibility and skills of young people and providing alternative solutions to locking young people up in prisons and for measures aimed, as far as possible, at remedying the emotional and educational deficiencies which are often the cause of delinquency;

18. Recommends that prisoners who are drug addicts should have access to specialised services within prisons or provided to them by special arrangement and should be able to join external voluntary rehabilitation programmes, subject to strict conditions;

19. Is concerned at the large number of prisoners who are addicted to illicit drugs and calls for anti-drugs and anti-smuggling policies to be introduced in all prisons;

20. Points out that detention on remand must continue to be reserved for exceptional cases, and that it should under no circumstances be used to extract confessions;

21. Notes that frequently the application of alternative measures is hampered by the inadequacy of the resources available to the courts responsible for supervising offenders, by overbureaucratic and inflexible pre-trial procedures and by inadequate knowledge of how these measures work;

22. Considers that an assessment should be made of alternative measures and alternative penalties to short sentences to evaluate their effectiveness, the level of recidivism, and the role played by society;

23. Believes that all social reintegration projects, as well as alternative measures and alternative penalties to imprisonment should be the subject of close cooperation between the various professions involved in the prison and legal services and voluntary organisations;

24. Emphasises the importance of speeding up criminal inquiries, particularly in cases where the accused is already being held on remand;

25. Draws attention to the need to give priority to personalising sentences such that the implementation of the sentence imposed by the judicial authority and the prison authority takes into consideration any statements made by the person condemned; stresses that an alternative penalty or a prison sentence must provide the offender with an opportunity to make good the damaged inflicted on the victim of his offence;

26. Stresses that remission of sentence, amnesties or pardons of whatever kind must be meaningful and must be understood by those concerned and by the general public, and should thus be tailored to the personal circumstances of those for whom they are intended;

27. Stresses that alternative penalties to detention should be used in all cases where they would not jeopardise the safety of persons and property;

28. Calls on the public authorities to make use of semi-custodial arrangements or open regimes based on specific rules and to cultivate conditions under which these regimes can be used in a way which ensures public safety and responsible behaviour on the part of prisoners;

29. Urges the Member State authorities to grant prisoners parole in preparation for their release or to deal with important personal or family matters, provided there is no risk of them breaking parole or committing further crimes;

30. Recommends that short sentences be replaced by alternative penalties, particularly those which have demonstrated their effectiveness in some EU countries, such as community service orders, day fines in Germany and electronic tagging in Sweden; points out in this connection that this form of electronic surveillance should not be used in place of pre-trial detention, probation, valid alternative penalties or suspended sentences, but should be reserved for prisoners on parole;

31. Emphasises the importance of making the general public aware of the aims and methods of the penal system with a view to ensuring that efforts to rehabilitate prisoners receive the support of the population as a whole;

32. Calls on public institutions in the European Union and in particular the governments of the Member States to introduce specific policies to encourage the reintegration into the workforce of former prisoners, and to end the all too frequent discrimination which in practice gives them no chance of finding employment in the broad sector covered by public companies and the civil service;

33. Recognises that the working conditions of prison warders are difficult and emphasises the importance of providing them with basic and continuing training and of improving their working conditions and supports the creation of networks to facilitate exchanges of experience;

34. Takes the view that prisoners should have an opportunity to do worthwhile, properly paid work;

35. Calls on the States and Governments of the Union to step up their efforts to recruit, train and deploy social and educational support staff for prisons, open regimes and post-release follow-up activities;

36. Takes the view that alternative forms of penalties other than prison sentences should be applied to drug addicts in order to reduce overcrowding in prisons while at the same time helping drug addicts to tackle their addiction;

37. Points to the need for governments to retain full responsibility for the organisation of, and living conditions in, prisons and stresses the danger of delegating responsibility for everything concerning the serving of sentences and discipline and security within prisons;

38. Draws the attention of the public authorities to the importance of the work carried out by associations and NGOs operating in and around the prison system, which play a vital role in providing support for and helping to rehabilitate prisoners, and calls for them to be given greater assistance with such activities;

39. Calls on the Member States to take all necessary measures with regard to holding centres and areas to ensure that the persons detained are duly informed about their rights and in a position to exercise them;

40. Calls on the Commission to monitor the development of legal and prison systems and, when drawing up the annual report on human rights, to assess the degree of compliance with the prison standards laid down by the Council of Europe and by this resolution, as well as measures to approximate the various laws in force;

41. Calls for Members of the European Parliament to have the right to visit and inspect prisons and detention centres for refugees on the territory of the European Union;

42. Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Commission, the Council and the governments and parliaments of the Member States.