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Prison overcrowding: the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture calls for setting a limit to the number of inmates in every prison and promoting non-custodial measures

The Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT)  called upon the European states to address the problem of persistent prison overcrowding. “Prison overcrowding undermines any efforts to give practical meaning to the prohibition of torture and other forms of ill-treatment since it can result in a violation of human rights”, highlights the CPT President, Alan Mitchell.

According to the CPT annual report for 2021, even though, in recent years, some countries have achieved tangible progress in tackling prison overcrowding, the problem is still visible in many systems, especially in establishments accommodating remand prisoners. In addition, even in countries where overcrowding is not a problem in the entire prison system, particular prisons, parts of prisons or cells may be overcrowded.

Prison overcrowding is caused mostly by strict penal policies, a more frequent and longer use of remand detention, elongating prison sentences and limited use of alternative measures to imprisonment. The Committee warns that after abolishing stricter anti-Covid-19 measures, the number of prisoners is increasing again in some countries, which may cause more overcrowding problems in the near future.

The CPT recommends detailed reviews of the capacity of each cell, prison and the prison systems as a whole, establishing a maximum threshold for the number of prisoners in every penal institution, and increasing the use of alternative measures to imprisonment, e.g. community service.


The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) visits places of detention in the 47 states parties to the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture in order to assess how persons deprived of their liberty are treated. After each visit, the CPT transmits a report containing its findings and recommendations to the government concerned.