The prison population in many European countries is growing again. Overcrowding of prisons remains a serious problem, as highlighted by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT). It dramatically reduces the impact prison can have on rehabilitation and in the fight against reoffending.
In addition to prisoners effectively convicted of an offence, there are currently 360 458 prisoners on remand and pre-trial detainees in the Council of Europe member states.
The cost of imprisoning one offender can be as high as €70 000 per year. Alternative sanctions are more economic and have a greater impact on rehabilitation of those concerned.
Imprisonment of a parent can have profound psychological consequences for the children of prisoners; the effects of separation due to the imprisonment of a parent can last a long time and can increase the risk of them becoming delinquent themselves.
Suitable alternatives to imprisonment for low-level offenders could reduce the number of prisoners in Europe and would increase the likelihood of successful rehabilitation and reintegration.
Alternatives to custodial sentences, where used appropriately, can help solve prison overcrowding whilst addressing legitimate security concerns of society and promoting the rehabilitation of the offender. Possible alternatives which have already been tested in some Council of Europe member states include, in particular, restorative justice measures, community-based programmes to reintegrate sex offenders into society and electronic bracelets.
It seems particularly important that the Parliamentary Assembly examine this issue and alternative solutions to imprisonment, how they could be put into practice in member states, their impact and their cost.