11 January 1995

Doc. 7216

1403-9/1/95-3-E

OPINION

on the conditions of detention

in Council of Europe member states

(Rapporteur: the EARL OF DUNDEE

United Kingdom, European Democratic Group)

____

      The Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee was asked to give an opinion on the draft recommendation presented by the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, and more particularly on the social aspects of imprisonment.

      The fact is that prison is a place where all social problems come together:

      In the great majority of cases the prison population is a very vulnerable one. Prisoners generally come from disadvantaged backgrounds: poorly educated, unemployed, prone to drug or alcohol abuse, suffering from psychological problems or even mental illness, they present the whole range of difficulties which are to be found in society at large at any given time.

      In addition there is the fact that many prisoners are foreigners, with all the consequences this may entail in prison, where the present situation is characterised — and this is general in all countries, in both eastern and western Europe — by overcrowding, as is pointed out by the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights.

      Can we ask prison as an institution to rehabilitate its inmates when civil society has been unable to do so?

      Is it necessary to build more prisons in order to deal with the increase in crime, and in particular juvenile delinquency?

      Social rehabilitation of the prison population is the task set for themselves by a number of organisations such as the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders (NACRO) in the United Kingdom, which stated in its annual report for 1992-93 that the punitive approach to juvenile delinquency does not prevent crime and does not protect society, but on the contrary makes society more violent and less safe. This affirmation is based on concrete experience and thus has to be taken seriously, whereas society is calling for heavier penalties, longer prison sentences and harsher prison conditions, forgetting that deprivation of freedom is the punishment.

      Accordingly, it seems to your Rapporteur that such experience must be taken into account.

      On top of the social problems there are health problems. A substantial number of prisoners suffer from health problems which call for appropriate treatment.

      Recommendation 1080 (1988) on a co-ordinated European health policy to prevent the spread of Aids in prisons is still relevant, but perhaps needs updating in view of the spread of the disease and the increasing overcrowding of prisons.

      In this connection the third general report on the activities of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) also provides most valuable information which should be taken into account. The CPT is also shortly to produce a report on the situation of women and children in prisons.

      The question of work in prison also needs to be examined.

      All these factors show the extent of the problem, which goes far beyond the scope of an opinion and warrants a separate report, in particular in order to take account of the CPT information. For this reason the Rapporteur:

      —su       pports the draft recommendation presented by the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights;—

      —pr       oposes a draft order instructing the Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee to prepare a report on the social aspects of imprisonment.*

* * * * *

      Reporting Committee: Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights (Doc. 7215).

      Committee for opinion: Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee.

      Reference to committee: Doc. 6775 and Reference No. 1901 of 1 October 1993.

      Opinion approved by the committee on 4 January 1995.

      Secretaries to the committee: Ms Coin and Ms Meunier.