Bulgaria, Cyprus Prisons among EU's Most Overcrowded
By Stefanos Evripidou
An EU report highlights that Cyprus has one of the highest prison overcrowding rates in the bloc, along with Bulgaria, Italy, Spain and Greece.
During a plenary session at the European Parliament yesterday, MEPs discussed detention conditions in EU member states, referring to a European Commission Green Paper released in June 2011.
MEPs noted that the Commission's report paints an "alarming picture" of prison overcrowding in Europe, a growing prison population, ever more foreign nationals being held, large numbers of pre-trial detainees, detainees with mental and psychological disorders and many cases of death and suicide.
The Green Paper concludes that prison overcrowding is a serious concern in 13 member states, with the highest overcrowding rates reported in Bulgaria with its occupancy level - based on official capacity - reaching 156 per cent, Italy (153 per cent), Cyprus (151 per cent), Spain (136 per cent) and Greece (130 per cent). The EU average was 107 per cent.
The EU countries with the highest percentages of foreign nationals being held in prisons are Luxembourg (70 per cent), Cyprus (60 per cent), Austria (46 per cent), Greece (44 per cent) and Belgium (41 per cent) with the EU average being closer to 22 per cent.
The highest percentages of pre-trial detainees are held in Luxembourg (counting for 47 per cent of the total prison population), Italy (44 per cent) and Cyprus (38 per cent).
Cyprus' total prison population in June this year, including pre-trial detainees and remand prisoners, was 831. Its prison population rate reached 105 per 100,000 members of the population, lower than the EU average of 137 per 100,000.
The EU's total prison population was estimated at 633,909 for 2009-2010.
The European Parliament yesterday passed a non-binding resolution calling for urgent measures to remedy the "alarming" state of prisons across the EU. MEPs called for action to protect prisoners' fundamental rights and minimum common standards for detention conditions in all EU countries.
The euro-deputies called on the Commission to table a law on the rights of persons deprived of their liberty and minimum standards for prison and detention conditions, and also uniform standards for the compensation of persons unjustly detained or convicted.
Prison conditions must be consistent with human dignity and the rights of suspects or accused persons must be guaranteed, including the right not to be subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment, the Parliament said.
Pre-trial detention must remain an exceptional measure to be used under strict conditions and for a limited period of time, it added.
Providing decent conditions for prisoners and granting them access to schemes to prepare them for a return to society should also help to reduce the likelihood that they will re-offend, MEPs noted.
One problem that member states often point to is a lack of resources to improve prison conditions. MEPs therefore called for a specific EU budget heading to be created with a view to encouraging them to comply with high standards.
The European Parliament also called for measures to be taken at EU level to grant national MPs and MEPs the right to visit prisons anywhere in the EU.
Ensuring mutual confidence among member states in this area was crucial, since the number of member state nationals held in another member state may rise as a result of the judicial cooperation among EU members in criminal matters, said MEPs.