MEPs support better conditions and alternatives to prison in Europe
The European Parliament has adopted a critical report on prison systems and conditions in the European Union today.
Across Europe, people’s experiences in prison often include being subjected to living conditions which amount to inhuman or degrading treatment as referred to in Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
This includes lack of medical care, lack of prison staff, violence between prisoners and between prisoners and prison staff, and obsolete facilities.
Some countries do not allocate enough resources to assisting people to reintegrate into society after leaving prison, to the extent that rates of recidivism and reimprisonment may exceed 50 per cent in the first five years after release.
The report focused on the ineffectiveness of entirely punitive systems of imprisonment and encouraged the use of systems that prioritise prisoners’ fundamental rights, medical care, social assistance and reintegration into society.
GUE/NGL MEPs welcomed the report and spoke in the plenary about specific experiences of prisoners in some of the member states.
Spanish MEP, Marina Albiol, introduced recent research: “In Spain the rate of imprisonment is 32 per cent higher than the European average, and the length of sentences is more than double the European average.”
“Yet the rate of delinquency is actually lower than the European average! This is the result of excessive reforms of the penal code that have led our punitive system to be more and more harsh.
“The Spanish state uses prisons as a place to hide social problems: 65 per cent of prisoners have drug addiction problems, and 1 in 4 prisoners have mental health issues.
“Prisons should be a last resort, there should first be options like mediation, community service, and services outside prisons for people with mental health and drug addiction issues.
“The only real way to combat social problems is to have a social justice system that prevents and addresses inequalities and to strengthen public services.
Basque MEP, Josu Juaristi, comments: “Human rights of all citizens, including prisoners, must be guaranteed. Of the 314 politically motivated prisoners from the Basque country, 21 are seriously ill and only two of them are currently being held in prisons in the Basque country.”
“This report is the first EU text condemning the dispersal policies that keep people in prisons far from their families and friends, and covers inmates’ right to health in a very progressive manner. This is a first step. We will keep working to improve prisoners’ rights at EU level.”
Irish MEP, Martina Anderson, adds: “Prison systems must demonstrate that human rights are upheld and applied consistently. They should never be used as a weapon by any state.”
“Irish republicans were interned without trial and endured awful prison conditions. In 1981, Bobby Sands and 9 other Irish republican prisoners died on hunger strike. Those days will never be forgotten.
“The Good Friday Agreement ensured the release of politically motivated prisoners to advance the peace process. But even in this era of the peace process, a man from Derry named Tony Taylor is being held without trial and should be released immediately,” Anderson urged.
Italian MEP, Eleonora Forenza, also contributed real-life experiences to the debate: “Emiliano Puleo was recently detained in a prison in Hamburg on pre-trial detention for months without any sentence being given.”
“The increasing number of people held in prisons on pre-trial detention in Europe is becoming a significant issue. It is vital that the European Parliament uses all the power available to it to work towards guaranteeing the rights of detainees.”