PRI is (re)launching its Europe Programme in 2020, in the framework of its 2020-2023 strategy which sets out its global ambitions. The key priorities for PRI’s work in Europe will be:
Non-custodial alternatives to detention
In 2021 we will begin a project that includes a study of European countries’ application of alternatives including how they affect vulnerable and minority groups. We will then conduct training for probation officers in Hungary and Portugal, review sentencing guidelines in each country and design and trial pilot projects on alternatives which better meet the needs and circumstances of vulnerable and minority groups.
As of 2014, there were roughly 479,000 persons serving formal life sentences around the world, compared to 261,000 in the year 2000, representing a rise of nearly 84 per cent in 14 years. Challenging life sentences is one of PRI’s global priority.
The issue is particularly relevant for Europe. As published by PRI and University of Nottingham, France, Germany and United Kingdom in 2014 jointly held over 11,000 life-sentenced prisoners. In the United Kingdom 11% of all prisoners were sentenced to life imprisonment. Serbia introduced life imprisonment without the possibility of parole as a formal sanction in May 2019, reversing their position as a country with no form of life imprisonment. In Poland, a legal amendment depriving certain categories of people sentenced to life imprisonment of the eligibility to be released was adopted in May 2019. In Scotland, the Parliament debated the introduction of life sentences without parole in July 2019, although the proposal was rejected, and similar debates also emerged in Sweden.
Over the past year, the European Court of Human Rights built on their existing jurisprudence on sentencing, finding that whole
life sentences in Italy (and in Ukraine) infringed the European Convention on Human Rights.
Use of technology and artificial intelligence in criminal justice procedures, law enforcement and prison management
In 2020-2023, PRI’s ambition is to tackle the use of technology and artificial intelligence in criminal justice procedures, law enforcement and prison management globally. We want to extend our capacity to apply and understand the use of technology and artificial intelligence in criminal justice systems, with a view to providing guidance to justice actors and preventing or mitigating harmful impacts that technology may have on the human rights of people in criminal justice systems.
The issue is particularly relevant for Europe. Technological innovation provides many opportunities for improving the efficient functioning of criminal justice systems and supporting the rehabilitation of people in prison, albeit with a range of challenges. Online education, video visitation systems, electronic file management systems and remote court hearings are becoming more common in some regions’ prisons, namely in Europe, North America and some parts of Asia and Oceania. In the Czech Republic for example, the Ombudsperson concluded that a blanket policy to use cameras in pre-trial detention centres disproportionately interferes with the right to privacy.
In October 2019, on the occasion of the Council of Europe’s justice ministers’ gathering to discuss the use of technologies in criminal justice systems, the Commissioner for Human Rights made a statement warning of the need to carry out human rights impact assessments of AI systems; establish public consultations; engage with the private sector; and ensure effective parliamentary, judicial and expert oversight of the use of technologies in the criminal justice system.
» Blog by Benny Goedbloed, working for the Belgian prison administration, about robots, scanners and thermal cameras used in the context of the outbreak of COVID-19
Advocacy for European standards
PRI will continue to work with its partners, such as Association for Prevention of Torture (APT), to increase our contribution and engagement with European dialogues and mechanisms (such as European Union, Council of Europe, Confederation of European Probation and Europris).
» Revised 2020 European Prison Rules provide greater human rights protection for people detained across the continent
» Blog by PRI Chairperson, Professor Dirk van Zyl Smit about separation and solitary confinement in the revised European Prison Rules
» APT and PRI submission, in view of revision of European Prison Rules, September 2018