The Hungarian Helsinki Committee has been monitoring places of detention, prisons and police cells for 20 years. We believe that prison overcrowding is one of the most severe problems of the Hungarian penitentiary system, being of long-standing nature.
Prison overcrowding is bad for everybody, both for the detainees and the penitentiary staff. In addition, the society will also have to bear the consequences of bad physical conditions and the frustration of detainees, since most of the detainees will eventually be released and will live among us.
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The European Court of Human Rights – partly on the basis of complaints submitted by the Hungarian Helsinki Committee’s clients – ruled on 10 March 2015 that overcrowding means a mass and structural problem with regard to the Hungarian penitentiary system. Therefore, it obliged Hungary to produce a plan, within six month, to reduce overcrowding significantly and permanently. The deadline for that expired on 10 December 2015.
Building new prisons is not a solution to the above problem. Not only because it is expensive, but also because international experiences show that increasing the system’s capacity has been accompanied by the growth in the number of detainees.
Overcrowding cannot be decreased permanently without decreasing the number of detainees, and in order to achieve that, a turn in the criminal policy is required. A reasonable criminal policy does not want to criminalize all deviant behaviours and does not want to put every person breaking the rules in prison. Instead, it strives to ensure that, where possible, the aim of the punishment is achieved not through imprisonment but other sanctions.
The aim of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee’s work is to contribute to the perceptible improvement of prison conditions, which, as of today, qualify as inhuman, degrading treatment, and many times even torture.