Europe's carceral fever

LEAP Annual Conference 2022

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Detaining a person in prison is one of the harshest displays of state power against an individual. It should be a measure of last resort, but it continues to be widely accepted as normal practice across Europe.

We are also witnessing an increase in the use of police forces’ administrative detention powers. Fundamental rights – such as the right to liberty, the presumption of innocence, and the right to silence – appear to be widely ignored or become meaningless in practice.

Policy solutions have largely followed the same carceral logic. Electronic monitoring is often used as a response to prison overcrowding, but this does not reduce the number of people caught in the system. Instead, it enables the expansion carceral control outside of the prison walls, while further deepening structural inequalities.

Deprivation of liberty as a one size fits all model for social control is not only unjust and unfit for purpose; it is also dehumanising. Its impact on the lives of impacted people, their families and their communities is severe and often definitive. It is high time that Europe reconsiders this model.


  • Laura Garius, Policy Lead, Release UK
  • Marcin Szwed, Strategic Litigation Programme, Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights (Poland)
  • Seán Binder, Human Rights Campaigner
  • Julien Fischmeister, Observatoire International des Prisons (France)

Moderated by: Laure Baudrihaye-Gérard, Legal Director (Europe), Fair Trials

This panel was part of the LEAP annual conference 2022 – (Re)imagining justice: A new era for fair trials? The Legal Experts Advisory Panel (LEAP) is our network of fair trial defenders. The network brings together lawyers, academics, civil society representatives, activists, and people with lived experience in criminal justice systems.

LEAP is funded by the European Union’s Justice Programme (2014-2020). The content of this event represents the views of the authors only and is their sole responsibility. The European Commission does not accept any responsibility for use that may be made of the information it contains.