Reply to Recommendation 1257 (1995) on the conditions of detention in Council of Europe member states

Doc. 7467

22 January 1996

COMMUNICATION FROM THE COMMITTEE OF MINISTERS

adopted by the Committee of Ministers on 16 January 1996 at the 555th meeting of the Ministers' Deputies


          The Committee of Ministers, recalling its recent reply to Recommendation 1245 (1994) on the detention of persons pending trial, wishes to inform the Parliamentary Assembly that it fully shares the concerns expressed in its Recommendation 1257 (1995) on the conditions of detention in Council of Europe member states. It now has at its disposal the opinion which it had asked the European Committee on Crime Problems (CDPC) to give on the important questions raised in paragraph 11.i of the Assembly Recommendation.

          The Committee of Ministers agrees with the Assembly that the overcrowding of prisons is one of the major reasons for the present deterioration of prison conditions.  Overcrowding of prisons is the subject of a new activity in the Intergovernmental Programme of Activities for 1996.  Furthermore, it associates itself with the tribute paid by the Assembly to the valuable work of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) which acquired a very valuable experience in this matter.

          As regards paragraph 11.i.a and b, the Committee of Ministers considers that the questions raised constitute complex matters which are closely related to substantive and procedural criminal law, as well as to sentencing policies.  Thus, a thorough examination of these questions would require the active participation of all member states; such a large scale study cannot, at this stage, be undertaken by the CDPC, which, however, will take these questions into account in the framework of its work programme.

          As regards paragraph 11.i.c, the Committee of Ministers recalls the adoption of Recommendation No. R (92) 16 on the European rules on community sanctions and measures and wishes to inform the Assembly that the CDPC continues its efforts with a view to examining the actual use of community sanctions and measures and to promoting them as a particularly humane and constructive way for dealing with certain categories of offenses and offenders.  In this connection, the CDPC will also study certain specific modalities of the enforcement of sentences aimed at reducing the overall duration of imprisonment (prison leave, semi-liberty, early release, conditional release, early release with intensive supervision or electronic surveillance, etc ...) and/or aimed at reducing the risk for offenders to relapse after release.

          As regards paragraph 11.i.d, the Committee of Ministers wishes to underline that the way in which remand in custody is being used by the competent judicial authorities is a matter of great concern to the prison administrations in that it contributes to considerably exacerbating the problems of prison overcrowding.  It is therefore in a position to inform the Assembly that the CDPC will encourage the Council for Penological Co-operation (PC-CP) to examine this question.

          As regards paragraph 11.i.e, the Committee of Ministers wishes to remind the Assembly that the European Prison Rules, devised in order to provide guidance to prison administrations, impose "powerful moral and political obligations on those member states that have accepted them" (see explanatory memorandum on the said Rule, page 30), but have no binding legal effect in international law, nor do they grant individual rights to prisoners. Thus, given their legal nature, they would not be the appropriate framework for a catalogue of prisoners rights. On the other hand, the draft Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights securing additional rights to person deprived of their liberty - to which the Assembly refers in paragraph 11.iv of its Recommendation and on which the CDPC already adopted an opinion which it transmitted to the Steering Committee for Human Rights (CDDH) which had requested it - might constitute an appropriate framework.  The Committee of Ministers, however, deems it advisable to await the outcome of the CDDH's work before considering the preparation of a possibly more comprehensive text on prisoners' rights.

          As regards paragraph 11.i.f, the Committee of Ministers notes that imprisonment considerably affects the relationship of prisoners with members of their families.  The families concerned often suffer from financial difficulties and substantial distress, thus indirectly exacerbating the prisoner's difficult psychological situation. It would thus be of interest to carry out further studies on the effect of imprisonment on family relations. Some aspects of this question might well be addressed within the framework of the work undertaken by the Council for Penological Co-operation on overcrowding of prisons.

          As regards paragraph 11.ii, the Committee of Ministers wishes to inform the Assembly that it has invited the authorities of member states to implement the principles contained in Recommendations of the Committee of Ministers to member states No. R (92) 16 on the European rules on community sanctions and measures and No. R (92) 17 on consistency in sentencing.  Furthermore, it invited them to comply with the guidelines on police custody as laid down in the second general report of the CPT.  As specifically regards the CPT, the Committee of Ministers wishes to inform the Assembly that, when adopting the budget of the Council of Europe for 1996, it created an A5 grade post and upgraded an A2/A3 grade post to an A4 grade post, and a B5 grade post to an A2/A3 grade post within its Secretariat.  Furthermore, it invited those member states which have not yet done so to ratify the European Convention on the Transfer of Proceedings in Criminal Matters and the Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons.

          Lastly, it decided to invite the Parliamentary Assembly to give an opinion on the draft Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights securing additional rights to persons deprived of their liberty, once concluded.