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Submissions to the Committee of Ministers about overcrowding in prisons

The HHC submitted a communication to the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe with regard to the execution of judgments of the European Court of Human Rights related to the overcrowding in Hungarian penitentiaries.

Translation is available for this content

Váltás magyarra

In the last decade, the HHC’s attorneys have successfully litigated cases related to the conditions of and treatment in detention in Hungarian penitentiaries before the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). Therefore, the HHC has special interest in the execution of related judgments of the ECtHR by Hungary.

The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe (CoM) supervises the execution of judgments of the ECtHR, the CoM’s function being to ensure that member states comply with the judgments of the ECtHR. Since the respective rules allow NGOs to turn to the CoM, the HHC submitted a communication to the CoM in October 2014 and January 2015 with regard to the execution of the judgments concerning the overcrowding in penitentiaries, namely the judgments in the Szél v. Hungary and the István Gábor Kovács v. Hungary cases. In its communications, the HHC addressed the action plans submitted by the Hungarian Government to the CoM in relation to the execution of the above judgments.

The above judgments on the overcrowding of prisons and the violation of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights prescribed comprehensive administrative and practical measures to be taken by the Government of Hungary, and the ECtHR ordered rapid actions by the authorities in order to secure appropriate conditions of detention. However, the HHC is convinced that governmental measures adopted are insufficient to comply with the requirements set out in the judgments. The rate of overcrowding is still on the rise (the average overcrowding rate being 143% in 2013); furthermore, the Government has taken restricted action to mitigate prison overcrowding and has also adopted measures which further aggravate the situation in the Hungarian prison system.

  • In its submission the HHC drew a full picture on the overcrowding of the Hungarian prison system, and also pointed out that a negative side-effect of the so-called “balancing program” applied within the penitentiary system (offered as a solution by the Government to reduce overcrowding) is the low number of family visits realised in penitentiaries.
  • The Government argued that overcrowding will be reduced thanks to the construction of prison places. However, the simplified calculation carried out by the HHC in its submission clearly shows that the construction of new prisons and/or units is a very time-consuming exercise, which may offer some kind of a solution only in the long run, but only if the increase of the prison population comes to a halt.
  • As regards alternative measures the HHC pointed out that these are very rarely used by the judiciary or motioned by the prosecution.
  • The HHC also presented that the actual criminal policy’s elements significantly contribute to the high overcrowding rates. The new Criminal Code (coming into force in July 2013) applies harsher sentences, and inflicts more severe sentences. The number of actual lifers sheers heavily and these types of detainees put a significant burden on the prison system. The “three strikes” rule is another illustration of the stricter criminal policy. Another reason for the increasing overcrowding is the widening of the range of misdemeanours (petty offences) punishable with confinement.

Since the general measures presented or envisaged by the Hungarian Government with regard to the execution of the given judgments were insufficient and did not offer viable solutions or failed to address systemic deficiencies, the HHC also submitted to the CoM a set of related recommendations, asking the CoM to call on the Government of Hungary to comply with them.

The communication of the HHC concerning the overcrowding in Hungarian penitentiaries is available here; while an addendum to the communication (submitted to the CoM after responses to FOI requests were received) is available here.


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Hungarian Helsinki Committee