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Working towards harmonised detention standards in the EU – the role of National Preventive Mechanisms (NPMs)

Judicial cooperation in criminal matters in the EU is based on the principle of mutual recognition and the approximation of laws, i.e. the establishment of common minimum standards. Mutual recognition is based on mutual trust which – as emphasised by the CJEU - does not mean "blind trust" and must not lead to a violation of the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment. Thus, the respect of common minimum standards for the adequate treatment of detainees across the EU facilitate mutual trust because they minimise the risk that a surrender/transfer of a detainee to another Member State violate this absolute prohibition.

However, challenges are manifold: Firstly, standards applied across the EU are far from being harmonised, which makes it more difficult for the judiciary to apply mutual recognition instruments. Secondly, international standards are often not very precise, further adding to different interpretations across Member States. Passing EU legislation on minimum detention standards has been discussed following the Commission’s Green Paper on Detention but was not pursued further due to a lack of Member States’ support. Finally, harmonised standards itself do not automatically improve the situation in detention but need to be adequately applied by the responsible authorities. NPMs are in an ideal position to provide support in this regard, by strengthening the authorities’ awareness on standards, as well as monitoring and promoting their practical application. Exchange and cooperation between the 24 NPMs in the EU have proven to be highly useful to strengthen their work. The current project builds on previous activities carried out by the BIM and partner organisations in the EU.

The overall objective of the project is to contribute to the effective, coherent and human rights compliant application of EU mutual recognition instruments in criminal matters. It specifically envisages to:

Clarify and consolidate existing standards

The project aims at clarifying and consolidating existing standards on the rights of persons in detention through research and exchange among practitioners and experts and on the basis of international and regional human rights obligations, soft law and jurisprudence as well as national practices. Thereby the project aims to contribute to paving the way to harmonised detention standards across the EU through a process involving NPMs and experts and in full compliance with human rights law.

Responding to the needs voiced in previous consultations with EU NPMs, SPT members and civil society organisations the focus will lie on non-material conditions in detention, namely:

1.) detention in detention, i.e. solitary confinement, segregation

2.) security and violence in detention, i.e. coercive treatment, inter-prisoner violence

3.) complaints, disciplinary measures, reprisals

4.) treatment of certain groups in a situation of vulnerability, e.g. persons with psychosocial impairments, foreigners, etc.

Strengthen the professional capacity of NPMs to effectively achieve change

The clarified and consolidated standards will strengthen NPMs’ work when conducting monitoring visits, reporting and following-up recommendations. The project will provide the opportunity for NPMs to exchange on the application of these standards, identify good practices and provide expert guidance on how to effectively achieve change for an improvement of detention conditions in the EU, based on systems thinking and change management.

Persons involved: 

Philipp Hamedl, Giuliana Monina

Project Advisory Board:
Wolfgang Gratz, Alison Liebling, Nora Sveaass, Dirk Van Zyl Smit, Association for the Prevention of Torture

Contact persons: 
Lead Organisation: 
Ludwig Boltzmann Institute of Human Rights
Partner organisations: 
Hungarian Helsinki Committee (HU), Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BG), Associazione Antigone (IT)
Project start: 
Project end: 
Funded by: 
European Union, Directorate-General Justice of the European Commission; Bundesministerium für Verfassung, Reformen, Deregulierung und Justiz
Human Dignity and Public Security

Co-funded by the Justice Programme of the European Union 


This project is implemented with the financial support of the Justice Programme of the European Union. The contents of this website are the sole responsibility of the BIM and its project partners and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the European Commission.