Legal Resources

December 2023 – February 2024

18 countries

In this compilation, the European Prison Litigation Network, its members and partners across Europe aim to inform national lawyers and civil society organisations about the most important legal developments on prison issues. We hope it enables you to better identify European trends and use them in your legal practice.
The compilation covers 14 European Union member states as well as Ukraine, Moldova, the United Kingdom and Russia.

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In Bulgaria, recent administrative courts’ case law on cases involving allegations of inhuman and degrading treatment show discrepancies regarding the reimbursement by prisoners of legal costs incurred by the prison administration when they have lost the case. This creates legal uncertainty regarding the use of preventive and compensatory remedies in prison matters.

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GERMANY In December 2023, the Federal Constitutional Court suspended for six months an extradition procedure of a prisoner to Türkiye, where he faced a 12-year prison sentence (FCC, decision of 4 December 2023, 2 BvR 1694/23). The court found that the risk of the applicant committing suicide during transfer or while in detention in Türkiye had been insufficiently considered by the trial courts.

UKRAINE In January 2024, a law enabling the Ministry of Justice to establish a list of prisons in which extradited prisoners must be held raises the issue of discrimination based on the status of prisoners.
The law was adopted following the decision of several states to refuse extradition requests based on concerns about detention conditions and security guarantees for extradited prisoners. It was adopted despite the reservations expressed by the Lower House’s Legal Department, which argued that distinguishing prisoners on the basis of their legal status (extradited or not) may amount to discrimination and lead to a violation of Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Article 24 of the Constitution.


BULGARIA In February 2024, the Sofia Administrative Court, seized through the domestic preventive remedy (Article 276 of the Execution of Punishments and Pre-Trial Detention Act), refused to examine a request for the temporary suspension of sentence execution for a prisoner suffering from a serious health problem (Sofia Administrative Court, ruling no. 1424/07.02.2024).
The court argued that the preventive remedy was inapplicable in this case because the only authority that could order a suspension of sentence on health grounds was the prosecution. This limitation on the use of the preventive remedy is prejudicial to prisoners with health problems, as the public prosecutor is a party to the criminal proceedings and is less likely to order the suspension of the enforcement of sentences than an independent administrative court.

GERMANY In December 2023, the Federal Constitutional Court ordered the prison administration to provide a prisoner with opiate substitution therapy (OST) for six months as an interim measure (FCC, decision of 5 December 2023, 2 BvR 1661/23). The applicant complained about the Kaisheim prison administration’s refusal (Bavaria) to provide him with OST (see also the similar case, Wenner v. Germany, no. 62303/13, 2016, in which the same prison administration refused to reinstate the drug substitution treatment the applicant was undergoing before imprisonment).
A few months later, in February 2024, the Bavarian Supreme Regional Court, ruling on the same case, found that the applicant’s procedural rights had been violated as a result of shortcomings in the Regional Prison Court’s examination of his case (it had not waited for the prisoners’ council’s submission on the case, nor had it sufficiently questioned the reasons put forward by the prison administration for discontinuing the OST).

ITALY In an October 2023 judgment, released in December 2023, the Court of Cassation rejected a request for a temporary suspension of sentence execution  submitted by a prisoner on hunger strike whose health had deteriorated.  His request was rejected because it was deemed that his declining health was a consequence of his own decision to hunger strike (Court of Cassation, first criminal section, sent. n. 49256/2023, 11 December 2023).
The case concerned Alfredo Cospito, an anarchist sentenced to 30 years’ imprisonment. He went on a hunger strike to protest the “hard prison” regime (carcere duro, governed by Article 41-bis of the Prison Administration Act) that was imposed on him. Due to his worsening health, his lawyer applied for a temporary suspension of the execution of his sentence. The Surveillance Judge (Magistrato di Sorveglianza) rejected this applicant. The applicant appealed to the Court of Cassation.
The court observed that the applicant had chosen to go on hunger strike. Furthermore, noting that medical expert reports indicated that his state of health could be reversed at any time if he began to eat, the court argued that it was his own choice to continue this hunger strike. The court concluded that no suspension of sentence could be granted where the deterioration in a prisoner’s state of health was his own responsibility.

MOLDOVA In view of the shortcomings of the procedure allowing seriously ill prisoners to be released for medical treatment, the Ministry of Justice is working on updated regulations to improve it. Between 2017 and 2021, half of the 50 prisoners who requested to be released to undergo medical treatment died in detention awaiting a decision. The draft regulation would also extend this possibility to be released to pre-trial detainees.

POLAND Since January 2023, in the application of a 2022 reform of the Executive Penal Code, prisoners can receive medical services remotely through telecommunication systems. In a letter sent to the Prison Service in early 2024, the Commissioner for Human Rights requested information about the way such services were provided, including how confidentiality is ensured.
The prison administration replied that, for organisational reasons, it has not been able to implement the reform, as it does not have the software to manage electronic medical documentation. In addition, the medical staff prefer to have personal contact with inmates to carry out physical examinations, which they consider to be the best way of assessing their health.

In December 2023, the Commissioner for Human Rights (RPO), who exercises the functions of National Preventive Mechanism (NPM), sent an official letter to the Director General of the Prison Service, informing him of his disagreement over the question of NPM agents to prisoners’ medical documentation.
The disagreement dates back to 2022, when during a visit NPM agents were barred from accessing documentation because they required prisoners’ prior written consent. In response to the RPO’s argument that Polish law allows for such access, the Prison Service maintained that this is the case only for prison visits carried out at the request of prisoners (not for visits organised on the RPO’s initiative).
In its letter in December 2023, the RPO asked the Prison Service to change its position, citing extracts from Polish law and the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, which authorise the NPM to process any information necessary for the performance of its statutory functions.

UNITED KINGDOM In February 2024, the Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) released a thematic review of delays in the transfer of acutely mentally unwell prisoners to the hospital. For context, the HMIP indicates that while the relevant guidance stipulates that prisoners requiring care under the Mental Health Act 1983 should be transferred within 28 days of identifying that a person’s mental health needs cannot be appropriately treated in prison, delays were noted in over three-quarters of its prison inspection reports in 2022-2023. The report is based on fieldwork carried out in 21 prisons.
The report found that only 15% of patients were transferred within 28 days: the average waiting time was three times longer (85 days). The rapid deterioration of a person’s health did not guarantee prompt transfer. Additionally, there is “little oversight or accountability for the long waiting times” (p. 8) as there is no publicly available comprehensive data on transfers from prisons under the Mental Health Act.
The report also found that some people are being sent to prison although they are already mentally unwell. It also highlighted that the vast majority (63%) of restricted-status patients (detained in the hospital for treatment and subject to special control of the Secretary of State for Justice) were transferred from prisons.


AUSTRIA A Decree from the Ministry of Justice adopted in November 2023 (published in December 2023) orders that all prisoners who are escorted from prison (for example for hospital consultations or court hearings) must be handcuffed behind their backs (see here and here). If, for medical reasons, handcuffs cannot be used, restraints, belts, or other equivalent instruments shall be used.
The decree was adopted a few weeks after four prisoners absconded while being escorted out of prison – mainly for hospital consultations – with the aim to prevent similar attempts in the future. The Union for Prisoners’ Rights criticised the decree (here and here) for imposing restraints on all prisoners without assessing the risk posed by each individual. The Prison Act states that shackles may only be applied to prisoners who are in danger of escaping, of committing acts of violence against persons or property, of committing suicide or self-harm, or who otherwise pose a considerable threat to security (§ 103 Abs 1, Abs 4 Strafvollzugsgesetz; see also the decision of the Supreme Administrative Court clarifying conditions under which shackles may be applied: VwGH 31.05.2001, 99/20/0105).

SPAIN Between December 2023 and February 2024, two reports have highlighted an increase in the use of mechanical restraints beds (the process of immobilising inmates by securing them to an articulated bed with approved straps designed to restrict their movements and normal access to their body) for both medical and security reasons in Catalonian prisons.

The first of these reports was prepared by the Observatory of the Penal System and Human Rights of the University of Barcelona (Observatori del Sistema Penal i els Drets Humans, OSPDH), titled “Mechanical restraint in Spanish prisons from a human rights perspective” (December 2023); the second is the report of the Catalonian Mechanism for the Prevention of Torture for the year 2023 presented by the Catalonian Ombudsman to the Catalonian Parliament (February 2024).
The data collected shows that between 2021 and 2022 the use of mechanical restraints almost doubled in Catalonian prisons, rising from 586 to 960, the highest number in the last four years. In 2022, the majority of these mechanical restraints (631) were carried out for security reasons (against 329 for medical reasons).

Conversely, this use has decreased in prisons managed by the national prison administration, confirming a downward trend over the last five years. Between 2017 and 2022, the use of mechanical restraints decreased by 64% (from 1,033 to 371 yearly). Furthermore, while use of medical restraints remained stable between 2019 (the first year when the General Spanish Administration began to systematise the data differentiating between mechanical restraints of a medical or regimental nature) and 2022, the security use of restraints decreased over that same period.
Regarding the prisons of the Basque Autonomous Community, which took over responsibility for prisons from the central administration in October 2021, there wasn’t enough data to produce a comparable quantitative analysis.


PORTUGAL In January 2024, the Ministry of Justice announced a pilot project enabling prisoners limited access to the internet in three of the country’s prisons. Prisoners of Tires (Cascais), Carregueira (Sintra) and Leiria prisons (in total 1,700 inmates, including juveniles in the latter facility) will have access to an online portal (called “+Inclus@o”) through which they will be able to consult their individual files, make requests for medical appointments, and consult a limited number of websites, including those of public institutions and newspapers. Their portal access will be monitored by the Directorate-General for Reintegration and Prison Services. The ministry declared that if the pilot project’s evaluation is positive, it will be “gradually extended” to other prisons.

UKRAINE From February 2024, prisoners are allowed to consult the website of the European Court of Human Rights and its electronic communication service. However, new rules adopted in January 2024 restrict internet access for prisoners paying for it, detained in pre-trial detention centres. This applies to prisoners serving a disciplinary sanction of solitary confinement or who are subject to a ban on communication with any person or a ban on correspondence or telephone conversations. For those prisoners to get internet access, the pre-trial detention centre’s administration must notify the investigating judge one day before the provision of the service.


MOLDOVA In February 2024, the Ministry of Justice organised a workshop on life sentences, with the support of the Council of Europe. The workshop was attended by civil society and government representatives and facilitated discussions on ways to enable access to release for life-sentenced prisoners – including via amnesty, pardon or parole.
The workshop recognised the fact that lifers do not have access to sentence adjustments and their situation needs to be reformed. Even more so given the many restrictions lifers face in the country (lack of activities conducive to their reintegration, rudimentary detention conditions). In 2022, life-sentenced prisoners staged several demonstrations in protest of their inability to access legal mechanisms for release (see our previous issue covering December 2022-February 2023).
As of January 2024, there were 130 life-sentenced prisoners in Moldova, out of a prison population of 5,695. According to the Ministry of Justice, the proportion of lifers in Moldova is four times higher than in Romania and four times higher than in Russia.

POLAND In February 2024, the Commissioner for Human Rights (RPO) called on the newly appointed Minister of Justice (and former RPO) to abolish the possibility of sentencing prisoners to life sentences without a possibility of parole, introduced by the previous majority by a reform of the Executive Criminal Code in 2022 (see our previous issues covering April-July 2022, June-August 2023 and September-November 2023). The RPO argues that such a possibility is contrary to Articles 30 and 40 of the Constitution of Poland, Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), and disproportionately restricts the right to a fair trial.
The commissioner also expressed concerns about the fact that the amended provisions on conditional release (extending the prison term that needs to be served for prisoners to be eligible) apply also to prisoners who, at the day of the reform’s entry into force, had been sentenced by a final judgment but whose prison sentence had not been executed. According to the RPO this breaches the principle that a more severe law for the offender cannot have a retroactive effect (lex severior retro non agit), enshrined in Articles 2 and 42(1) of the Constitution of the Republic of Poland, as well as Article 15(1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Article 7(1) of the ECHR.
In response, the ministry replied that a criminal law reform is being considered and that, given its importance, the issue of life sentence will be taken into consideration.

UKRAINE In January 2024, the Constitutional Court declared a complaint directed against the new mechanism for review of life sentences to be inadmissible (Article 81, paragraph 3, part 3 of the Criminal Code). This new mechanism  entered into force in 2022 and was introduced following a decision by the Constitutional Court in 2021, which ruled that the lack of mechanisms for reviewing life sentences was unconstitutional. It allows lifers who have served more than 15 years to have their sentence commuted to a fixed-term sentence of 15 to 20 years (to be served from the date of the decision to commute the life sentence) and to apply for parole after serving three-quarters of this fixed-term. Consequently, in the best case, lifers must serve a minimum of 26 years and three months before being eligible for parole.
The complaint filed against the mechanism argued that it complies neither with the 2021 Constitutional Court’s decision nor with Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) as it discriminated against prisoners who had already served more than 15 years at the time the new mechanism entered into force and who would have to further serve three-quarters of a sentence of 15 to 20 years before being eligible for parole (see also the joint communication submitted to the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe by the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, the  Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, the NGO Protection for Prisoners of Ukraine and EPLN).
The Constitutional Court’s decision to reject the complaint differs from the European Court of Human Rights’ approach, which has already communicated a case regarding the compatibility of the new mechanism with the ECHR.


BELGIUM Several organisations published memoranda ahead of the June 2024 federal elections, including proposals to improve detention conditions and remedy prison overcrowding. The professional association of French- and German-speaking lawyers ( calls for a fundamental rethink of penal policy, stressing that “imprisonment is not inevitable but the result of a choice”. Similarly, the League for Human Rights calls for the adoption of structural solutions to the issue of overcrowding (implying lesser recourse to incarceration) and advocates for limiting the use of preventive detention to only the most serious crimes and offenses. The League for Human Rights also advocates in favour of a reform of the law on the external legal status of those sentenced to less than three years in prison, which it considers one of the causes of the substantial increase in the prison population.
As a result of a series of recent reforms, prison sentences of three years or less cannot be adjusted ab initio and can only be adjusted following a court decision (whereas previously it was a prison administration decision). This led to an increase in prison overcrowding, which was already critical (see our previous report covering September-November 2023).

BULGARIA In January 2024, the Montana Administrative Court, seized through the preventive remedy (Article 276 of the Execution of Punishments and Pre-Trial Detention Act EPTTDA), ruled that the failure of the administration of the Boychinovtsi Prison Hostel to change prisoners’ bed linens and personal underwear at least once a week constituted inhuman and degrading treatment, within the meaning of Article 3 EPPTDA (Montana Administrative Court, Ruling no. 106/21.01.2024). In doing so, it established a high standard for cases involving allegations of inhuman and degrading treatment. The court consequently ordered the prison administration to carry out the necessary changes at least once a week.

CZECH REPUBLIC The entry into force of a decree increasing the minimum personal space per detainee (Decree no. 362/2020 from 4 September 2020), initially scheduled for 1 January 2024, has been postponed to 1 January 2027 – without public information. Based on the standards defined by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT), the decree establishes a minimum personal space of 6 sq. m. in single-occupancy cells and 4 sq. m. in multi-occupancy cells for each additional prisoner. Derogations remain possible where the number of prisoners exceeds the total capacity of a given facility, but a personal space of 3 sq. m is defined as the strict minimum.
Updated data provided by prison facilities showed that the new standards would reduce the total capacity by 2,806 prison spaces and would expose prisoners to overcrowding (up to 190% in some facilities). The Ministry of Justice decided to postpone the entry into force of the new decree to prevent any negative effects arising from its application.

HUNGARY In February 2024, the European Parliament held discussions on detention conditions in Hungary following the media coverage of an Italian citizen held in pre-trial detention there. Her description of appalling detention conditions (cells infested with rats and bedbugs) and the fact that she appeared handcuffed and chained at her hearing, drew considerable diplomatic and press attention.
Inadequate detention conditions resulting from overcrowding and poor hygiene have been identified as a structural problem of the Hungarian prison system by the European Court of Human Rights (see Varga and Others v. Hungary, no. 14097/12, 2015).

ITALY In a judgment released in December 2023, the Surveillance Judge (Magistrato di Sorveglianza) of Florence stated that the assessment of prison conditions must consider many factors, in addition to the personal space allocated to each prisoner, such as such as the cells’ hygiene level (Ufficio di Sorveglianza di Firenze, Ordinanza N. 2023/3831).
The judge rendered its decision following a personal visit to the Sollicciano prison in Florence. It found that the building was dilapidated and that basic hygiene was not granted – neither in common spaces nor in the kitchen or cells. The judge stressed that detention conditions undermining prisoners’ health violate their rights and that the prison administration is responsible for ensuring that they are not held in conditions that affect their physical and mental health or their dignity as human beings.
Although this is in line with well-established ECtHR case law, it’s a new approach in Italy, where Surveillance judges only took account of the personal space available to prisoners to assess material detention conditions.

MOLDOVA In December 2023, Promo-LEX Association published the result of an investigation into detention conditions in prison no. 13 in Chișinău. The evaluation covered 175 detention spaces, including regular cells for inmates, the medical block, disciplinary isolation cells, cells for inmates involved in managing household activities, and suspended cells (i.e. former cells that are not in use anymore because they no longer meet detention standards). Not only did the evaluation verify that the number of prisoners held (750) exceeded the official capacity (570) of the facility, it also appeared that the application of international standards on detention conditions (UN Mandela Rules, CPT, ICRC) reduced the official capacity to only 377 prison places, further aggravating overcrowding from 131% to 198%.

POLAND In February 2024, the Commissioner for Human Rights (RPO) sent an official letter to the Prison Service, alerting it of the poor state of holding cells. Prisoners recently admitted to a prison facility are placed in a holding cell for a period not exceeding 14 days. During this time, they go through preliminary medical examinations, sanitary procedures, and initial personality assessments, and are provided information on basic legal acts related to serving a sentence of deprivation of liberty and the internal regulations of the penitentiary unit.
The RPO’s letter was sent following a visit to the Grochów Detention Centre in Warsaw, in which detention conditions in 11 holding cells were found to be inadequate, with peeling paint, moisture deposits, crumbling plaster, dirt, damage, and poor equipment. The RPO insisted that this problem is not limited to the facility visited and affects all facilities in the country, as documented by its visit reports.

ROMANIA In Romania, the High Court of Cassation and Justice ruled that compensation claims for non-pecuniary damage due to inadequate prison conditions should be addressed to the Romanian State, and not to the prison administration (Decision no. 2234/2023, handed down on 21 November 2023).
The applicant had been held in inadequate conditions in Giurgiu prison for about a year. In 2021, they filed a request for compensation against the National Administration of Penitentiaries (ANP) and claimed RON 400 million (EUR 80.4 million).
The court noted that there was no fault on the part of the ANP, since it reasonably managed the financial resources placed at its disposal by the Romanian State. In this case, the state (represented by the Ministry of Finance) would be responsible for the persistent inadequate detention conditions  and it is obligated to provide prisoners with adequate detention conditions. The ANP or the administration of particular prison facilities can only be considered responsible if they are found to have mismanaged state-provided resources. Consequently, the court dismissed the claim as ill-founded.

UKRAINE In December 2023, the Ministry of Justice ordered a postponement, from 1 January 2024 to 1 January 2025, of the entry into force of amendments increasing the frequency of prisoners’ access to bathrooms from “one day per week” to “at least two days per week”.


RUSSIA  In February 2024,the Russian authorities declared the Anarchist Black Cross (ABC) “undesirable”. Continuing its activities in Russia puts its members at risk of criminal prosecution, as does any collaboration with it. The ABC was founded in the early 20th century and is registered in the United States of America. It provides humanitarian aid to prisoners in Russia and across the globe.

Furthermore, as a symbol of the shrinking civic space in the country, in February 2024, Oleg Orlov, a co-chair of the Memorial Human Rights Defence Centre was sentenced to 2.5 years’ imprisonment for “repeated discreditation of the Russian armed forces” (a recent repressive addition to the Russian criminal law used by the government to silence anti-war dissent since 2022) following the publication of an anti-war article in the French online journal Mediapart in November 2022. M. Orlov is a prominent Soviet dissident and an ex-head of the Presidential Human Rights Council (2004-2006). He has been an active member of Memorial since its foundation in 1988 and contributed to the drafting of legislation aimed at the reform of the Russian penitentiary system and the rehabilitation of victims of political repression.


BELGIUM In January, two major penal law reforms were adopted. First, a law amending various legal instruments in criminal law and criminal procedures. Among other changes, the reform authorises pre-trial detention in fast-track proceedings. This measure was criticised by the professional association of French- and German-speaking lawyers (, which stated that it risked exacerbating already severe prison overcrowding. The new law also creates new offences (throwing objects over prison walls or using “secret compartments” to transport illegal items) or increases the penalty for certain offences. In particular, punishments for acts of violence against ministers, members of legislative chambers, holders of authority, or public force, or for rebellion when it resulted in an incapacity of the victim, are made harsher. This goes against the proposition put forward by the League of Human Rights in a memorandum published in the context of the forthcoming June 2024 elections to abolish the offences of contempt and rebellion.

Second, the lower house of the Federal Parliament adopted a complete overhaul of the Penal Code, after eight years of preparatory work. Some measures are expected to positively impact the prison system, such as the definition of a prison sentence as “ultimum remedium”, or a new categorisation of offenses. Notably, the distinction between “contravention” (minor offense), “misdemeanour”, and “crime” disappears, and offences are now divided into eight categories. Offences that fall within the first category cannot be punished by imprisonment. Also, for the first time, the concept of punishment has been comprehensively defined, geared towards rehabilitation and reparation. In a commentary on the reform, the Federal Institute for Human Rights invited lawmakers to go further by considering the introduction of a numerus clausus for prisons, to limit the use of imprisonment to the number of available places.

Special criminal law is also reformed, and news offences of ecocide, intra-family homicide, or malicious damage to the authority of the state (atteinte méchante à l’autorité de l’Etat) have been created. The latter was widely criticised by NGOs, trade unions, lawyers and academics over the country as threatening the right to demonstrate.

GREECE In February 2024, Law 5090/2024 (Α΄ 30/23-2-2024) introduced sweeping reforms to the recently adopted Criminal Code (2019, amended in 2021 and 2022). The reform will have a decisive and substantial negative impact on the already overburdened and dysfunctional criminal justice and penitentiary system in Greece and pose serious risks to fundamental rights. The impetus and rationale behind the amendment is considered to be unscientific and based on long-deconstructed and debunked theories of criminal law and penitentiary treatment.

The main features of the law that are indicative of this backsliding, include: (a) the rapidly escalating criminalisation and punishment of minors and young adults, in the face of the observed increase in juvenile delinquency; (b) the restriction of access to justice for financially vulnerable citizens (through the increase in court fees and fines imposed as an alternative to detention) as a means of speeding up the notoriously slow Greek justice system; (c) the introduction of populist provisions of dubious constitutionality and without any real penal value (e.g. on expropriation as a criminal sanction), aimed at placating the public sentiment; (d) the systematic, asymmetrical tightening of sentences and the framework for serving and suspending sentences, as well as the downgrading of mitigating circumstances, without simultaneous investment in alternatives to detention, combined with the announcement of new prisons; (e) the introduction of mandatory imprisonment for essentially all misdemeanours; (f) the extension of pre-trial detention, combined with the restriction of the right to appeal and the suspensive effect of appeals, and thus the overall extension of imprisonment.

In particular, the reform changes the maximum prison sentence to 20 years from 15 years; increases the maximum time of actual imprisonment from 20 to 25 years in the case of felonies and from eight to 10 years in cases of misdemeanours; limits the grounds for reduction of sentence and increased the minimum and maximum sentence for reduced sentence (from one and eight years to two and 12 years); limits the possibility to suspend the execution of a sentence to sentences of up to one year (down from three years); limits the possibility to grant conditional release; increases penalties for certain offences (involuntary manslaughter, students’ protests and squatting of schools, violation of conditions imposing restrictions on freedom of residence and movement, entry in the country of a deported third country national); extends the cases where pre-trial detention may be imposed; and toughen up juvenile justice, notably by increasing the time limits for detention in a special youth detention facility (from eight to 10 years) and by extending the cases of confinement of minors in a special detention centre to all felonies (not only those against life and physical integrity or involving elements of violence).

The ruling party ignored the widespread criticism from civil society and academia, as well as many members of the judiciary and opposition parties, voiced during consultations on the bill.

SPAIN In January 2024, the Catalonian Government adopted a two-year strategy consisting of 15 measures to promote alternatives to detention and an open detention regime (Estratègia Nacional d’Obertalitat Penitenciària 2024-2025). The strategy stresses that out of the 8,030 prisoners detained in Catalonia, 42% are in pre-trial detention (1,663) or are serving a sentence of less than two years (1,725).

The strategy is divided into three blocks. The first block lists measures aimed at increasing the use of the open detention regime (to reach the rate of 30% of inmates in the open regime within three years), such as: modifying the Protocol for Admission and Classification in Open Prison Facilities (Protocol per a l’ingrés i classificació en centres penitenciaris oberts CIMO); promoting measures enabling prisoners to meet the conditions for access to the open regime (such as granting temporary leaves from prison, or enabling prisoners to participate in restorative justice processes while in prison); and increasing the capacity of special centres to accommodate prisoners without official residence,prisoners with special needs or belonging to a vulnerable group, who would otherwise have difficulty being assigned to an open regime.

The second block proposes measures to reinforce the ultima ratio principle in Spanish criminal law. It proposes restorative justice in judicial investigation proceedings, which would enable judges to suspend custodial sentences if the conditions are met; and to establish an e-justice tool based on biometric technology to facilitate verification of the proper implementation of apud acta measures (intended to ensure that a person under judicial investigation is at the disposal of the judicial authority) and to decrease the use of pre-trial detention. The block also proposes to implement pilot projects to facilitate the suspension of custodial sentences (by enabling the provision of information from social workers and psychologists to judicial bodies on the psychosocial profile of the accused person), and to promote the use of GPS bracelets as an alternative to pre-trial detention.

The third block of measures aims to facilitate the reintegration of prisoners by allowing them to carry out alternative penal measures, such as community service, as soon as they are incarcerated (instead of consecutively); by implementing a screening tool to detect prisoners who are victims of human trafficking (who have easier access to temporary absences, open prison regime and parole); and by enabling pre-trial detainees who participate in a detoxification treatment to benefit from a suspension of their custodial measure on the model of Article 80.5 of the Criminal Code (which allows a sentence of up to 5 years’ imprisonment to be suspended provided that the crime was committed under the influence of a narcotic substance and that the offender has been cured or is undergoing detoxification).

However, the strategy does not include budgetary considerations, which are essential for some of the measures planned.


POLAND In a reply to an official letter sent by the Commissioner for Human Rights, the Ministry of Justice acknowledged the issue of abuse of pre-trial detention and announced conceptual work to change the criteria for ordering it.
The ministry referred to data gathered by civil society indicating that there had been a 60% increase of individuals placed in pre-trial detention between 2016 and 2022 and the ratio of requests for pre-trial detention accepted by courts reached 87% in 2022. Furthermore, the number of pre-trial detentions lasting for more than two years increased significantly between 2014 (two people) and 2022 (51). Complaints against pre-trial detention orders are also largely unsuccessful. In 2021, 3.59% of complaints directed against district courts’ decisions and 0.05% of complaints filed against regional courts were successful.


FRANCE In January 2024, a reform modifying the status of prison guards entered into force. The reform upgrades prison guards’ status and consequently increases the diploma requirement: prison guard candidates must hold a secondary school diploma (baccalauréat). As a result, prison guards will benefit from faster career development, with an salary increase of up to double their current level.
Given that a third of prison guards do not meet the diploma requirements, the reform also provides for the possibility of recruiting contract staff as assistant prison guards.


UKRAINE In February 2024, the Malinovsky District Court of Odesa sentenced the head of the Northern Correctional Colony No. 90 in absentia to life imprisonment for high treason, because he allowed the Russian occupying forces to use part of the establishment he was in charge of, as well as using the prisoners’ labour force.
Russian trucks delivering food, equipment and other goods to the occupying forces were given free access to the territory of the colony; Russian forces were allowed to use long visit rooms and other areas of the colony as places of residence; and the colony’s medical department provided medical support and treatment to Russian military personnel. In addition, prisoners were used to repair Russian military equipment and to destroy the labels of Russian goods for subsequent sale in the town of Kherson and the Kherson region.
Also in Ukraine, a new law provides that prisoners who have not served their full sentence because they were involuntarily transferred to Russia must serve the remainder of their sentence once they return to the country.


CZECH REPUBLIC  In January 2024, a new law was adopted that unifies the rules under which the prison administration must manage prisoners’ incomes (Act no. 29/2024 of 24 January 2024). The law, which simplifies the procedure for enforcing deductions from convicts’ money, brings major and long-awaited changes in this area. Under the new law, every prisoner with a financial income will receive a fraction of this income to cover their basic needs (health, hygiene) or buy specific items (food, tobacco, etc.). The law will come into force on 1 January 2025.

HUNGARY  Since the beginning of 2024, prisoners’ relatives have reported positive changes regarding the prison visit arrangements enabling limited physical contact at the beginning and end of visits. Since 2017, it has been common practice in Hungarian prisons to separate prisoners from their visitors with ceiling-high transparent partitions. Such installations became mandatory following the entry into force of an internal regulation in April 2019. This restrictive approach to prisoners’ private and family life has been criticised by the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, the Hungarian Commissioner for Fundamental Rights, and the European Court of Human Rights in the judgment Takó and Visztné-Zámbó v. Hungary (no. 82939/17, 2023). Following the judgment, relatives of detainees have petitioned the National Prison Administration to put an end to this unlawful practice.
In the past months, some facilities replaced the ceiling-high partitions with 20-50 cm high partitions. However, the situation has not been solved as the 2019 regulation requiring prisons to install ceiling-high partitions remains in force.

ITALY  In December 2023, the Constitutional Court recognised prisoners’ right to affection and ruled that prisoners must be able to meet their spouse or partner without supervision by the prison administration (Constitutional Court, sent n. 10/2024, 6 December 2023, released on 26 January 2024, ECLI:IT:COST:2024:10). It found that the practice to supervise such visits violated the Italian Constitution – specifically the right to equality (Article 3), the prohibition of cruel and unusual treatments and the right to re-education for convicted people (Article 27, para. III), and the right to private and personal life (Article 117), as well as Articles 8 (right to respect for private and family life) and 3 (prohibition of torture) of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Regarding the right to equality, the court found that the supervision of prisoners’ visits with their spouse or partner creates an unreasonable difference between prisoners in adult prisons and those in juvenile prisons, where long unsupervised visits (up to six hours) have been permitted since 2018. Notably, despite recognition of this right, juvenile prisons still lack ad hoc spaces for such visits.
Concerning the right to family life and the prohibition of torture, the court emphasised that preserving family ties can help prisoners reintegrate after their release. It also stressed that maintaining emotional ties is essential for prisoners’ mental health, which, along with physical health, constitutes the core of human dignity. Jeopardising these ties can lead to emotional distress that goes beyond the suffering inherent in detention and which is prohibited by Italian and international law.

MOLDOVA In February 2024, the Parliament adopted a reform of the Execution Code which brings significant changes in several aspects of prison life, such as visits, access to medical care and prisoners’ right to complain.
The reform aims to facilitate short- and long-term visits.  Short-term visits can now also be held via video call in specially arranged spaces. These video calls take place under the supervision of prison staff or through the prison’s video system. For long-term visits held in special rooms within the prisons, detainees or their relatives are no longer required to cover the related costs (electricity, heating, salary of the inmate employed in the meeting room to maintain order), which are now covered by the prison administration.
The reform also brings two important changes. First, prisoners who committed self-harm are not to be subjected to disciplinary punishments and are no longer required to cover the cost of medical interventions necessitated by the self-harm. Second, the new code contains more detailed regulations strengthening prisoners’ right to complain.

POLAND  In December 2023, after the October parliamentary election led to a change of government, the Ministry of Justice departed from the practice established by its predecessor, which limited prisoners’ possibility of telephoning their families to once a week. This change was made possible following the adoption of amendments to the Executive Penal Code providing that prisoners are entitled to at least one telephone call per week. This provision was interpreted in such a way that prisoners have in practice been entitled to the minimum number of phone calls (see our previous issue covering August-September 2022).

The Deputy Minister of Justice (previously associated with civil society) ordered that inmates be allowed to make phone calls to their families twice a week. However, prisoners are only entitled to one telephone call with their defense attorney once a week.
In February 2024, in a formal letter sent to the Minister of Justice, the Commissioner for Human Rights (RPO) drew attention to the situation of prisoners serving their sentences far away from their places of residence, preventing them from maintaining family ties.
The current legal framework does not guarantee prisoners the right to serve their sentence close to their place of residence. They may ask to be transferred to a facility close to their place of residence for family reasons, but this decision is left to the discretion of the prison administration.

According to the RPO, female prisoners are disproportionately affected, because there are fewer prison units for women (27 out of 176 penitentiary facilities). Furthermore, only nine facilities have open-type wards for women, 15 semi-open wards and 12 close wards. Furthermore, eight have units for female repeat offenders, five have units for young female inmates and few facilities have therapeutic sections for women with non-psychotic mental disorders or intellectual disabilities (two facilities), alcohol dependence (three), and dependence on substances other than alcohol (one).
The RPO argues that this poses a challenge for incarcerated women seeking placement in a suitable unit that would also be close to their place of residence.

RUSSIA  In December 2023 the Supreme Court and the Parliament have further restricted prisoners’ contact with the outside world. In a decision included in its 2023 review of jurisprudence, the Supreme Court banned prisoners’ use of portable radio receivers, while the legislator went even further by criminalising the transfer of mobile phones and other means of communication to prisoners, which carries a prison sentence of up to two years.

UKRAINE  In December 2023, the Constitutional Court declared certain provisions of Part 1 of Article 111 of the Criminal Executive Code to be unconstitutional because it does not allow lifers the right (granted to other detainees) to be temporarily released from prison to visit a seriously ill relative or attend their funerals.
The court stated that the possibility for all prisoners to visit seriously ill relatives or attend their funerals is granted by the constitutional right to inviolability of personal and family life, read in conjunction with the right to human dignity. The state therefore has an obligation (stemming from its positive obligation to ensure the social rehabilitation of prisoners) to put in place a mechanism to enable all prisoners, including those sentenced to life imprisonment, to benefit from this right. The court ordered the Parliament to amend the relevant provisions within three months. As of 30 April 2024, the provisions had not been amended.


FRANCE In February 2024, the Administrative Court of Grenoble, acting as interim relief judge, ruled that the right of a prisoner to attend a hearing in person is a component of their right to an effective remedy (Tribunal administratif de Grenoble, juge des référés, no. 2400662, 2 February 2024).
The applicant challenged the prison administration’s decision to prolong his solitary confinement. The prison administration refused to organise his transfer so that he could attend the hearing, arguing that the applicant’s dangerousness and the lack of availability of police officers (at a time when demonstrations were being organised in the country) posed a security risk. The applicant therefore asked the tribunal to order the prison administration, as an interim measure, to organise his transfer to the courtroom.
While recognising that “the right to attend hearings in person is a component of the right to an effective remedy”, the judge concluded that in the circumstances of the case, the prison administration’s refusal to organise the physical appearance of the applicant did not “constitute a serious and manifestly unlawful infringement either of the possibility of effectively ensuring one’s defense before the judge, or of one’s right to an effective remedy”. The judge based their reasoning on the applicant’s criminal profile (he was sentenced in 2015 to life imprisonment for terrorism-related offences) and on the fact that the sole presence of his lawyer would ensure respect for the adversarial processes (the judge stressed that the applicant won a case a few days ago while being represented only by his lawyer).


HUNGARY In February 2024, a ministerial decree outlining comprehensive rules for the implementation of the reward-punishment credit system determining prisoners’ detention regimes was published (see our previous issue covering September-November 2023).
The credit system enables classification of prisoners into one of five categories (from least severe to most severe) which determine their living conditions in prison – from access to the gym (four times a week for Category 1 prisoners, complete ban for Category 5 prisoners), to contact with the outside world (time allowed per week for phone or video calls, time and frequency of visits), duration of temporary prison leaves, and the amount of money a prisoner can use for their own needs.
Category placement depends on the sentence served and other circumstances. A cooperative attitude and participation in reintegration programmes can earn prisoners extra credits while insubordination can result in deductions. Prisoners can move up to a more favourable category based on individualised credit targets defined through a complex algorithm and determined by the remainder of the sentence to be served. As a rule, six credits can be earned every six months, and additional credits can be awarded to a convicted person based on outstanding performance. Every six months, a committee decides how many credits the detainee will receive out of the maximum defined. The committee must consider circumstances such as the prisoner’s willingness to cooperate and their participation and performance in employment, education or reintegration programmes.
The credit system only applies to convicted prisoners and does not apply to pre-trial detainees and persons deprived of their liberty on other grounds (e.g. petty offence detention).

LITHUANIA In December 2023, the Prison Service adopted an order amending the operational rules for halfway houses, small-scale facilities with open detention regime designed to prepare prisoners’ reintegration, which are currently holding 167 prisoners (3.6% of the total prison population). Initially adopted to amend the functioning of the halfway house recently opened in Domeikava (Kaunas district), the order also includes a modification that applies to all eight halfway houses in the country: all prisoners transferred to a halfway house are now to be placed under electronic monitoring for at least one month from the date of their transfer.
This order was adopted following protests against the opening of the Domeikava halfway house (see our previous issue covering September-November 2023). Per the commitments made by the authorities to address locals’ concerns, during the first six months of  the halfway house’s functioning, no more than 10 prisoners will be held and they will be placed under collar electronic supervision during this period. Furthermore, no prisoner convicted of violent and sexual offences or of violence against a minor will be transferred to this halfway house. The authorities also committed to hold a meeting with the Domeikava community after six months of the halfway house’s operation.


RUSSIA In January 2024, the Probation Act (passed a year ago in February 2023) entered into force. It contains a series of measures aiming at the resocialisation and reintegration of prisoners. It defines three types of probation: “executive” for those sentenced to non-custodial sentences, “penitentiary” for prisoners serving their sentences, and “post-penitentiary” for recently released prisoners. Convicts or former convicts shall be provided with assistance in receiving education, finding an occupation, opening a bank account, being assigned a social security and tax number, receiving social allowance, and covering their basic needs.
Experts criticised the vagueness of the law, which adds nothing new to the existing provisions of the Penitentiary Code, which were unable to prevent high rates of reoffending among former prisoners (70%). Furthermore, the Probation Act seems detached from current prison and social realities in Russia, characterised by the massive recruitment of prisoners to wage war in Ukraine. On the one hand, some of the prisoners who were pardoned after returning from the frontline have reoffended (as of December 2023, media reported 32 grave crimes (murders and rapes) committed by returned prisoners recruited by the Wagner Group and 150 criminal cases against returnees recruited by Wagner were found in judicial databases). This shows that special measures to ensure the resocialisation of these prisoners are required. On the other hand, given the recent adoption of a law authorising the signing of military service contracts with prisoners and people with criminal records in exchange for exemption from criminal liability (including early release), any initiative formally aimed at resocialising prisoners appears to be fictitious.


BULGARIA Recent administrative courts’ case law on cases involving allegations of inhuman and degrading treatment show discrepancies regarding the reimbursement by prisoners of legal costs incurred by the prison administration when they have lost the case.
Some courts have mandated that prisoners cover such legal costs based on general rules of civil procedure, which provide that the losing party should pay the legal costs of the opposing party (Burgas Administrative Court, Decision no. 776/29.01.2024, imposing the losing party to pay BGN 100, ca. EUR 50, to the prison administration, not available online). Other courts have dismissed such claims, because the Execution of Punishments and Pre-Trial Detention Act (EPPTDA), does not contain a specific provision authorising the reimbursement of legal costs (Plovdiv Administrative Court, Decision no. 1355/12.02.2024, not available online).
If the first position were to become widespread, it would dissuade prisoners from using the preventive and compensatory remedies available to them to complain about inhuman or degrading treatment in prison. This new case law is part of a wider context in which the prison administration is concerned about the high amounts claimed by prisoners in such cases. The prison administration has been advocating for the introduction of a special provision in the EPPTDA to allow for the reimbursement of legal costs by the losing party. In September 2023, the Ministry of Justice set up a working group to consider such amendments.


RUSSIA Recent figures indicate that at least 50 people have died in remand prisons, police custody or during arrest in 2023. While Russian authorities do not publish mortality rates in detention facilities, 2021 figures (the most recent available) indicate that 2,400 prisoners died that year. This number increased dramatically in 2022-2023, which coincided with the beginning of the recruitment of prisoners by the Wagner Group and the Russian Ministry of Defence to wage war in Ukraine. As of January 2024, BBC and Mediazona identified 8,000 recruited prisoners killed in Ukraine – a small fraction of the estimated dozens of thousands of prisoners recruited to date and killed on the frontline (read our report on the recruitment of prisoners to wage war in Ukraine).

There have also been recent reports of individual deaths in prison. On 16 February 2024, the Russian opposition figure, Alexei Navalny, died in a correctional colony in the polar town of Kharp. According to the prison administration and official medical reports, he died from a “natural cause”. Ex-convicts from the colony in Kharp where Navalny was being held reported appalling detention conditions. Navalny had been seen publicly only one day before his death, looking well and laughing during a court hearing held via video link. Navalny’s body was returned to his mother eight days after his death. He was buried in Moscow on 1 March 2024. The ceremony was attended by dozens of thousands of people, who continue to lay flowers at Navalny’s grave to date. Over 40 countries demanded an independent international investigation into the death of Navalny.

Shortly after the death of Navalny, Takhirjon Bakiev, who took part in riots in Angarsk penal colony in 2020 to denounce systemic abuses committed by prison guards, was found hanged in a correctional colony in Irkutsk Region. Around the same time, the Russian NGO Memorial reported that Viktor Demchenko, a 71-year-old Ukrainian national charged by Russian authorities with espionage, died in a remand prison in Rostov.
These numerous violations of prisoners’ right to life illustrate the centrality of the prison system in Russia’s repressive machinery.


PORTUGAL In January 2024, the Court of Appeal of Coimbra ruled that pardon measures must be taken into account when calculating the length of the sentence served, as a criterion for a prisoner’s eligibility for a sentence adjustment (decision from the Court of Appeals of Coimbra, no. 347/18.0TXCBR-S.C1, 24 January 2024).
The case concerned a prisoner who benefited from the amnesty law passed in August 2023 and had his seven-year prison sentence reduced by one year (Law no. 38-A/2023 of 2nd of August 2023, see our previous issue covering June-August 2023). The applicant challenged the first instance court decision, which refused to consider his application for conditional release under Article 61 para. 4 of the Criminal Code, which provides that persons sentenced to a term of imprisonment of more than six years “shall benefit from early release as soon as they have served five-sixths of their sentence”. The court considered that, because of the pardon, the applicant’s sentence was six years and that he was no longer eligible for this early release scheme.
The Court of Appeal of Coimbra contradicted the first instance court’s judgment, confirmed that the article applies since the initial sentence was seven years, but ruled that the calculation of the length of the sentence already served must take into account the pardon measure.

UNITED KINGDOM In February 2024, the High Court ruled that a legislative reform that deprives children convicted of murder and sentenced after reaching the age of 18 of the opportunity to have their sentences reduced based on exceptional progress is incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR, see R (Quaye) v Secretary of State for Justice [2024] EWHC 211 (Admin)).
The applicant was convicted of murder committed when he was 17. He was sentenced in 2015, when he was 18, to a sentence of detention at Her Majesty’s Pleasure (DHMP, i.e. a sentence with an indefinite term) with a minimum term of 15 years. Until 2022, all prisoners serving DHMP were entitled to a review of the minimum term length after serving half of the sentence. A reform entered into force in June 2022 limited this possibility to cases where the prisoner was under 18 at the time of the sentence (see Section 128 of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 inserting Sections 27A(1) and 27A(11) in the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997).
The applicant claimed that the provision was discriminatory and incompatible with Article 14 ECHR within the ambit of Article 5 ECHR, and that it breached his rights under Articles 5, 6 and 7 ECHR.
The court found that, since the reform did not change the nature and ambit of DHMP, there was no objective justification for the differential treatment of offenders sentenced to DHMP who were 18 when sentenced. The principle that culpability had to be assessed by reference to age at the time of the offence was made explicit by the statutory basis of the sentence of DHMP. Depriving convicted children who were 18 at the time of sentencing of a review of the length of the minimum sentence was therefore deemed incompatible with Article 14 ECHR.
What is more, an inherent element of the sentence was the requirement of continuing review. Consequently, the removal of any possibility of a reduction of the minimum term via a review generated a risk of arbitrary detention sufficient to engage the protection of Article 5 ECHR.


GERMANY In December 2023, the Federal Constitutional Court examined a prisoner transfer case in light of the constitutional principle of effective legal protection (FCC, decision of 19 December 2023, 2 BvR 1936/22). The applicant challenged a decision to transfer him to a facility located in a different state. He argued that the decision was only communicated to him just before the transfer, even though the decision was made seven weeks earlier, and he requested the suspension of his transfer as an interim measure.
The Regional Court rejected his request for an interim measure, arguing that he had given no special reason for it apart from the transfer itself [e.g. risk of interruption of an ongoing therapy, risk of losing his job, educational measure, vocational training, distance from relatives].
The Federal Constitutional Court quashed the Regional Court’s decision on the grounds that the transfer in itself constitutes sufficient reason to seek legal protection from a court.


GERMANY In December 2023, a working group on the remuneration of prison work released its report. The working group was set up following the decision of the Federal Constitution Court which found the remuneration system for prisoners employed in prisons to be unconstitutional (see our previous issue covering June-August 2023). While the report is not public, key elements were reported in February 2024 by the Ministry of Justice of the Berlin State to the Berlin State’s Parliament.
According to the elements communicated, there should be an increase in the average wage paid to employed prisoners from 9% to 15% of the average wage in the general population (prisoners currently earn between EUR 1.37 and EUR 2.39 per hour, depending on the work), and an alteration of the system of non-monetary compensation so that it corresponds to a reduction of sentence to up to 12 days per year of work (the calculation currently varies from one state to another – e.g. eight days per year of work in Berlin, six days per year of work in Bavaria).
By comparison, people held in preventive detention (Sicherungsverwahrung) earn 16% of the average wage in the general society but are not awarded non-financial compensation. In December 2023, the Hamburg Higher Regional Court referred the system of remuneration of people in preventive detention to the Federal Constitutional Court (5 Ws 97/23 Vollz, not available online).
In the elements communicated, there was no mention of other important measures, such as the definition of a science-based notion of social rehabilitation encompassing prison work or the inclusion of prisoners into a pension scheme. Prisoners are currently not included in any pension schemes, which means that the time worked in prison is not accounted for once a person reaches retirement age. The Hamburg State Social Court ruled in December 2023 that the exclusion of prisoners in the public pension scheme does not infringe the right to social rehabilitation (L 3 R 58/22, not available online).

ITALY In December 2023, the Labour Tribunal within the Civil Court of Milan ruled that former prisoners are entitled to unemployment benefits for work done in prison, whether employed by a private company or by the prison administration (Tribunal of Milan, sent. n. 4380/2023, 12 December 2023).
The applicant had been employed by the prison administration (under the authority of the Ministry of Justice) during his one-year detention in the San Vittore prison in Milan. He involuntarily ceased this occupation after he was released from prison and placed in home arrest.
The social insurance administration (INPS) denied him unemployment benefits because general labour and social security legislation does not apply to work done for the prison administration, due to the specific characteristics of the latter. He challenged this decision before the tribunal, with the support of the Italian General Confederation of Labour (CGIL, one of the biggest trade unions in the country).
The tribunal found no legal basis to justify the INPS refusal to grant the prisoner’s monthly unemployment benefit, since no distinction is made in the law between prisoners employed by the prison administration and those working for private companies or non-profit organisations setting up work activities in prisons.

SPAIN In February 2024, the Catalonian Ombudsman presented a report to the Catalonia Parliament highlighting the numerous shortcomings in the organisation of prison work in the region.
The report shows that 44% of incarcerated men and 40% of incarcerated women are employed in Catalonia. Notably, women account for only 15% of the inmates employed in the production workshops, either because of the architectural structure of the prison itself (as in the case of the women’s prison, where lorries cannot get in), or because the workshops are sometimes located inside men’s wings, which prevents them from gaining access.
In many establishments, there is a waiting list because of the job shortage. The situation is likely to get worse, as most of the available jobs are low-skilled and workers can be easily replaced by machines.
As far as wages are concerned, the report concludes that they are well below the minimum interprofessional wage (SMI): the average hourly wage in prison is EUR 3.68, compared with EUR 7.88 for the SMI.
Concerning labour rights, the report states that, given that prisoners do not have the right to unionise, they should establish a system of representation so that they can participate in the organisation and planning of work and can express their concerns.

A special thank you to our members and associate partners for jointly drafting this compilation!