Irish Penal Reform Trust

CPT: COVID-19 follow-up statement

9th July 2020

The Council of Europe's Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) has called upon member States of the Council of Europe to fight against COVID-19 by puting an end to prison overcrowding through the emergency measures which have been put in place temporarily, including the use of alternatives to imprisonment.

The statement, issued as a follow up to its Statement of principles made in March, highlights that further steps are needed to minimise the risk of the spread of COVID-19, including a reduction in the use of remand detention in prisons and other population reduction measures in other places where people are deprived of their liberty.

The CPT stresses that the ongoing crisis demonstrates the clear need to put human rights first in decision-making in the context of the pandemic and beyond. Each measure taken by the authorities of member States should be based on a thorough assessment of its concrete implications for the human rights of all persons concerned. 

As well as looking at what actions can be taken in the present and the outlook for the future, the statement makes detailed reference to the environments in which the pandemic occurred. Many states commenced emergency response measures while already dealing with overcrowded detention facilities, with poor access to sanitation and high turnover rates in their detainee populations.

"As regards the situation of prisoners, the CPT is now witness to a pandemic crisis taking place against the background of pre-existing flaws in various criminal justice systems. As the responses from member States have shown, resolute action is only now being taken – in crisis mode – on some issues that have been the subject of CPT recommendations for very many years. The Committee urges the relevant authorities of all member States to progressively move from the management of risks to seizing opportunities that the pandemic has created. Certain emergency measures put in place temporarily must be made sustainable. This applies in particular to the increased use of alternatives to deprivation of liberty, with a view to putting an end to the phenomenon of overcrowding."

The CPT underscores that temporary restrictions imposed to contain the spread of the virus in places of detention must be lifted as soon as they are no longer required, in particular the restriction of detained persons’ contact with the outside world, and of the range of activities available to them. As we move away from the peak of the pandemic, IPRT will be engaging with all stakeholders to ensure this is the case for people in prisons in Ireland. 

Read the full statement from the CPT here.

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

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