European prison reform

european prison reform

European prison reform

"Improving the treatment of prisoners"

A driving force for prison reform since the 1960s, the Council of Europe is working to improve the treatment of those imprisoned or otherwise deprived of their liberty. Its steering and expert committees develop standards on the basis of relevant judgments of the European Court of Human Rights, criteria determined by the European Committee for the prevention of torture (CPT), and observations and recommendations made by the Commissioner for Human Rights.

Together, these activities give substance to the Council of Europe's conventions, protocols and recommendations, and permit the regular updating of specific texts, such as the European Prison Rules which establish the minimum standards regarding prison staff, prisoners and pre-trial detainees.

Committee for the prevention of torture

Set up by the European Convention for the prevention of torture in 1987 and composed of independent, impartial experts from a variety of professional backgrounds (lawyers, medical doctors, specialists in prison or police matters), the CPT visits places of detention in order to assess how persons deprived of their liberty are treated.

Intergovernmental co-operation

The Committee on crime problems (CDPC) implements and harmonises national policies in the fields of criminal law, criminal procedure, crime prevention and the treatment of offenders. It promotes the implementation of the European Prison Rules and has proposed for adoption by the Committee of Ministers more than 20 binding instruments and some 100 recommendations on various aspects of criminal law.

Commissioner for Human Rights

Independent institution within the Organisation, the Commissioner for Human Rights promotes awareness of and respect for human rights in the 47 member states of the Council of Europe. He also identifies possible shortcomings in law and practice in human rights matters.

Conferences of directors of prison administration

Held every two years since 1972, these conferences allow prison officials to take stock of good practice and possible problems in the implementation of Council of Europe standards and to discuss the recommendations of the Committee of Ministers, the European Prison Rules and priority topics - e.g. women in prison, healthcare, education, juveniles or foreign prisoners.


Web Content Display

Prison reform

Information sheets on prison reform in Europe

It is now possible to download a compendium of 12 explanatory information sheets on many topics linked with reform, such as prevention of torture, abolition of the death penalty, extradition procedures, the European Prison Rules and prison staff training. This information is directed not only at practicing jurists but also at the prison administration and associations and citizens active in defence of human rights. To get a printed copy, please send an e-mail to: