European Committee for the Prevention of Torture
and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Factsheets are issued under the authority of the Executive Secretary of the CPT.
They aim to present the CPT’s standards on key issues. However, they do not claim to be exhaustive,
in particular as regards the references to CPT country visit reports.
Women in prison
In fulfilling its mandate, the CPT endeavours to examine the treatment and conditions of all
categories of incarcerated persons, including women. Women usually make up a very small
minority of the overall prison population, albeit a growing one in some countries.1
Importantly, they are characterised by having particular needs and vulnerabilities which
differ from those of men. In combination with these differences, the fact that women are
far fewer in number poses a variety of challenges for prison administrations, often
resulting in less favourable treatment as compared to imprisoned men. This stems from
the fact that prison rules and facilities have been developed for a prison population in
which the male prisoner is considered to be the norm.
Whether or not they are imprisoned, women must enjoy the fundamental right not to be
discriminated against – directly or indirectly – on the grounds of their biological sex or
gender. Substantive equality may require the adoption of special measures in order to
address existing inequalities. As in the community, particular measures may be required by
prison administrations in order to ensure that women enjoy equal rights with men. The
growing recognition of the benefits of fully embracing substantive gender equality in all
areas of policy-making should extend to the prevention of ill-treatment in prison. Greater
efforts are therefore needed in order to ensure a gender-sensitive monitoring of prisons,
attuned to the potential compounding of problems women face in prison.
Women in prison constitute a group with distinctive needs, biological as well as genderspecific. Some female prisoners also have particular vulnerabilities due to their social
situation and cultural roles. There is a risk that the specific needs of women will be
disregarded, especially as they are a minority category of prisoners. It is important that a
number of factors are taken into account when dealing with women prisoners, notably any
physical, sexual or psychological form of violence, including domestic violence, they might
have suffered before the imprisonment, a high level of mental health-care needs, a high
level of drug or alcohol dependency, specific (for example, reproductive) health-care
needs, caretaking responsibilities for their children and/or their families, and the high
likelihood of post-release victimisation and abandonment by their families.2
SPACE I 2015 reported a median proportion of 5.2% female inmates in the total prison population, up from 4.7% in
2013, notwithstanding a decrease in absolute numbers over the same period. In 2015 very few Council of Europe
countries had overall female prison populations of more than 7%.
2 Ireland: 2014 visit, paragraph 86. See also, for example, Rules 41, 42 and 44 of the United Nations Rules for the
Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-custodial Measures for Women Offenders (the “Bangkok Rules”).