Irish Penal Reform Trust

CoE: Revised European Prison Rules

1st July 2020

The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe (CoE) has adopted a Recommendation which updates the 2006 European Prison Rules. The rules – which outline legal standards and principles relating to prison management, staff and treatment of detainees – guide the 47 Council of Europe member states in their legislation, policies and penal practices.

The updates made by adopting the recommendation include: changes to record-keeping and the management of prisoner files, the treatment of women prisoners, foreign nationals, as well as the use of special high security or safety measures such as the separation of prisoners from other inmates, solitary confinement, restraint, the ensuring adequate prison staff, inspection and independent monitoring.

The updates regulate in greater detail the practice of solitary confinement (>22 hour lock-up without meaningful human contact). Due to the very negative effect such a measure may have on one’s physical and mental health, it should be imposed for a specified period of time, which should be as short as possible. A key addition to the rules is that prisoners separated for security/safety shall be offered at least two hours of meaningful human contact a day. This rule effectively regulates against the practice of solitary confinement, save for in exceptional circumstances.

Among other amendments, the revised rules establish that states should set in their national legislation the maximum period for which solitary confinement may be imposed. Solitary confinement "shall never be imposed on children, pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers or parents with infants in prison", and it "shall not be imposed on prisoners with mental or physical disabilities when their condition would be exacerbated by it". Furthermore, the rules also outline that any prisoners subject to solitary confinement should be visited daily by the prison director or an authorised member of the prison staff, as well as by the medical practitioner.

While there has been significant momentum towards reducing the number of prisoners being held in solitary confinement in Ireland in recent years, this momentum appears to have deteriorated. There is still no regularly published data on the length of time people are subject to the regime, as well as no published data available on the number of people held on prolonged solitary confinement (longer than 15 days).

For more on this issue, IPRT is tracking progress made in the practice of solitary confinement in our annual ‘Progress in the Penal System’ project.

Respect for rights in the penal system with prison as a last resort.

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