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HFHR Report: Hygiene in prisons across Europe

On 8 August, the warmest day of this summer, thermometers showed temperatures rose to 38 degrees Celsius. At that time, over 86 thousand inmates were held in Polish prisons. Some of them, as in previous years, complained to the HFHR that they had limited access to bathing facilities. International standards, on their part, recommend access to bathing facilities at least twice a week.

Under the applicable law, prisoners should be given access to a hot water shower at least once a week. More frequent access should be available to women (at least twice a week) and men performing physical labour. However, in practice inmates can rarely use the additional shower time, even if they exercise or perform work which results in them becoming unclean. Moreover, individual facilities differ in terms of the size of bathrooms, length of bathing time and access to hot water. In some institutions, inmates are given access to hot water only for several minutes a day.

The problem was noticed during the visit to Poland by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) in 2009. According to Polish authorities, the present technical, organisational and financial conditions of penitentiary facilities prevent an introduction of more frequent access to bathing facilities. Increasing access to sanitary facilities would result in increased financial outlays which, in turn, would expand the costs of the penitentiary system by millions of zlotys. Still, no detailed financial estimations have been provided.

Under the European Prison Rules, prisoners should be enabled to take a bath or shower, at a temperature suitable to the climate, if possible daily but at least twice a week, or more frequently if necessary.

“The Rules are followed by a number of European countries”, says Marcin Wolny, HFHR lawyer. “In Portugal, prisoners have a statutory right to at least one shower a day while the rules applicable in France provide that an inmate has the right to take shower three times a week and each time after physical exercise, work or other activities”, adds Mr Wolny.

Countries of southern Europe (Greece, Italy or Spain) adopted standards according to which a shower is installed in all newly constructed prison cells and inmates are given constant access to a communal bath. Similar standards have also been followed outside Europe. For instance, in the US, prisoners may shower daily. This general rule does not only apply to high-risk inmates held in maximum security facilities who may take a shower three times a week.

“A shower in every cell should be a standard for newly built prisons. In older institutions, the management should make efforts to give inmates access to bathing facilities at least twice a week in the warmest period of a year, and also after physical exercise”, says Dr. Adam Bodnar, HFHR Deputy President.

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