Our work

The European Prison Litigation Network defends and advances prisoners’ fundamental rights across the continent and advocates for the reduced use of incarceration. We research and analyse legal changes and their impact on prisoners’ rights and life in prison. Our network of around 30 civil society organisations and bar associations involves prisoners and their defenders in penal and prison policymaking at domestic, European and international institutions.
Access to justice

While the recognition of prisoners’ fundamental rights has improved considerably over the last 20 years through European and domestic case law, detainees still face difficulties asserting their rights through legal action. Not only does litigation place them in the often untenable position of confronting prison authorities, but prisoners also face material obstacles to accessing relevant legal norms, adding complexity to already technical proceedings.

We campaign for prisoners’ right to access legal information, legal representation and free legal aid, and strive to protect prisoners from reprisal for engaging in litigation. These rights are essential for prisoners judicial protection and to ensure that legal developments are not merely theoretical, but also have a practical impact on prison systems.
We also advocate for the recognition of NGOs’ crucial role in this regard, and provide legal support to prisoners and prisoners’ rights defenders by documenting cases, collecting evidence, and pursuing legal action before domestic and international courts.

Access to health care

Prisons are overrepresented by people with poor health. The prevalence of infectious diseases and mental health disorders among prisoners are several times higher than in the general population. Not only are prison healthcare systems generally incapable of coping with a high and increasing burden of diseases in an ageing prison population, but the enshrinement of prison healthcare in prison’s security paradigm also creates structural conditions for ill-treatment.

We address the systemic failures of European prison health systems and advocate for detainees’ right to healthcare by campaigning for the independence of healthcare in prison and release for ill prisoners. EPLN promotes the principle of equivalence of care for prisoners through the provision of healthcare in public health institutions and outside prison walls.

We also advocate for the equivalence and continuity of care and harm reduction services for people who use drugs, in particular access to opioid agonist therapy in detention. In cases of denial or inadequate care for drug users in detention, we fight for change in court and international forums.

We do this within the Prison Health & Rights Consortium, formed by former prisoners and drug users, prisoners’ rights defenders, prison health caregivers, public health specialists, together with UnMode – Community Movement for Access to Justice, Health without Barriers – the European Federation for Prison Health, and Harm Reduction International.

Institutional violence

EPLN addresses the question of prison violence by documenting and alerting on cases of torture and ill-treatment and defending the victims before domestic and international courts. In countries where the practice of torture is endemic it also addresses the structural causes of torture and the complete subjugation of the prison population to the prison administration. We campaign in particular for the fight against the impunity of perpetrators of torture acts, through advocating for transparent and effective state investigation of torture cases and providing legal assistance to victims and their families for the prosecution of perpetrators and reparation.

Since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, we also work with Protection for Prisoners of Ukraine, Kharkiv Human Rights Group, Ukraine without Torture, Human Rights Center SICH, and DIGNITY to document crimes committed against Ukrainian prisoners under Russian occupation and defend victims before domestic and international courts.

EPLN also addresses prison violence, so central to life in prison across the continent, by questioning its root causes and analysing the characteristics of the prison environment that create structural conditions for violence (overcrowding, length of sentences, use of disciplinary sanctions, harsh prison regimes).

We question in particular an increasing trend in policies responding to prison violence with risk assessment measures aimed at categorizing prisoners. This approach both obscures the institutional factors of violence and subordinates the benefit of rights to the condition of behaviours that conform to prison expectations. In so doing, prison obliterates the substance of rights that have been hard won in court.

EPLN addresses prison violence by campaigning for the reduced use of incarceration and litigating for access to sentence adjustments for detainees convicted to long and life sentences.

Special projects

Justice for Kopeysk prisoners

Justice for Kopeysk prisoners

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In 2012 hundreds of prisoners from the penitentiary colony No 6 of Kopeysk, in Russia have protested against torture and racketeering. In 2018 seventeen of them were convicted to sentences up to 5 years for “mass riots”. EPLN observed their trial for 3 years and reported on the reprisals against the protesting prisoners and about the significance of the case in the wider context of the Russian penitentiary system.

20 years of European prison law

20 years of European prison law

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On the anniversary of the ECtHR landmark judgment Kudla vs. Poland, EPLN gathered the views and analysis of the protagonists of the case, people in prison, activists, lawyers, prison staff, judges and researchers on the context and stakes of the judgment for the recognition of prisoners’ rights.

Annual reports

Annual report 2022

Annual report 2021

Annual report 2020

Annual report 2019