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Europe can learn ‘useful lessons’ from the experience of prisons during Covid, says PACE committee

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Europe can learn “useful lessons” from the experience of prisons during the Covid pandemic, continuing to use alternatives to detention to reduce the prison population and ease overcrowding, according to PACE’s Legal Affairs Committee.

In a draft resolution based on a report by Givi Mikanadze (Georgia, SOC), the committee said Europe’s prison population was “significantly reduced” during the Covid pandemic, which had proved to be “one of the most effective and sustainable” measures for controlling the disease.

The lower numbers of prisoners during Covid could be explained by a fall in certain types of crime, slower court procedures and, in some countries, prisoner releases or amnesties.

Alternatives to detention used during the pandemic – such as home detention, community service orders or reduced pre-trial detention – as well as the early release of low-risk or vulnerable prisoners could all be continued in order to eliminate overcrowding, the committee said.

Other measures introduced during lockdown, such as greater access to telecommunications, should also be maintained to facilitate prisoners’ contact with family and encourage rehabilitation, without replacing face-to-face contact.

More widely, the committee underlined, “the right balance must be struck between preventing the uncontrolled spread of the virus and limiting prisoners’ freedoms”. Any restrictions on their rights should be introduced only “to the extent and duration necessary”.

In an appendix to his report, Mr Mikanadze set out the different measures taken in European countries to prevent the spread of Covid in prisons, based on the replies of 30 parliaments to a questionnaire.

The report is due to be debated by the Assembly’s Standing Committee on 25 November 2022.