Criminal detention conditions in the European Union: rules and reality

This report looks at five core aspects of detention conditions in EU Member States: the size of cells; the amount of time detainees can spend outside of these cells, including outdoors; sanitary conditions; access to healthcare; and whether detainees are protected from violence. For each of these aspects of detention conditions, the report first summarises the minimum standards at international and European levels. It then looks at how these standards are translated into national laws and other rules of the EU Member States.

To provide more context, the report also presents an overview of how these rules play out in practice according to the findings of existing National Preventive Mechanisms. The report should be used alongside FRA’s new online database of relevant jurisprudence and reports by competent monitoring bodies.

The focus of this report is on identifying shortcomings  – such as overcrowding or a  lack of protection against violence – that may be key to an accurate assessment of prison conditions. However, prison conditions that violate the standards of the prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment are often not detected as a result of identifying shortcomings in relation to one particular aspect in isolation. Rather, such violations are more likely to be detected through an overall evaluation of a  multitude of aspects and circumstances.

The report is not intended to compare or rank Member States. Its aim is to assist judges and other legal practitioners involved in cross-border cases based on the EU’s mutual recognition instruments, such as the European Arrest Warrant (EAW). The report responds to the European Commission’s request inviting FRA to compile certain basic information on prison conditions and the monitoring mechanisms in place in Member States.

The publication contains the following sections:

  1. Cell space
  2. Hygiene and sanitary conditions
  3. Time spent outside cell and outdoors
  4. Access to healthcare
  5. Protection from inter-prisoner violence