Women should be held in an environment suited to their needs. However, the challenges
involved in making separate provision for the small numbers of women in prison often
result in their being held at a limited number of locations (on occasion, far from their
homes and families, including dependent children3), in premises which were originally
designed for (and may be shared by4) male prisoners.5
This factsheet presents the main standards which the CPT has developed so far, as regards
adult women in prison. It is not intended to cover the full range of standards applicable
generally to all imprisoned persons, including women. Many of the issues addressed may
also apply by analogy to other categories of detained persons, such as transgender or
female juvenile prisoners.
The CPT’s standards in this area are evolving. They should not be seen in isolation from
international instruments such as the European Convention on Human Rights and the
relevant case-law of the European Court of Human Rights, the Council of Europe’s
European Prison Rules,6 the United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners
and Non-custodial Measures for Women Offenders (the “Bangkok Rules”)7 and the United
Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the “Nelson Mandela
1. Appropriate accommodation
The CPT has recommended that prison administrations move away from large-capacity
accommodation formats, in favour of smaller living units. Women are no exception:
smaller living units allow for an approach which is better tailored to their particular needs.9
In the CPT’s experience, although violence among women in prison can certainly occur,
violence against women by men (and, more particularly, sexual harassment, including
verbal abuse with sexual connotations) is a much more common phenomenon. Women in
prison should, therefore, as a matter of principle, be held in accommodation which is
physically separate from that occupied by any men being held at the same
The CPT has encountered some specific situations in which prisons permit men and
women to share an accommodation unit in pursuit of “normalcy”, i.e. promoting
conditions of living that approximate as far as possible those in the community, with
prisoners taking responsibility for their own lives. Nevertheless, great care should be taken
in establishing and following the criteria for assigning both male and female prisoners to
such units, and in ensuring rigorous supervision of relations between the inmates
concerned. Clearly, persons likely to abuse others, or who are particularly vulnerable to
abuse, should not be placed in such a unit. Whatever the arrangements, it is essential that
proactive measures be taken to prevent sexual exploitation where male and female
prisoners come into contact in a prison environment.11
Ireland: 2014 visit, paragraph 110.
See, for example, Ukraine: 2000 visit, paragraph 77.
5 Extract from the 10th General Report on the CPT’s activities, paragraph 21.
6 Recommendation (2006) 2 of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, adopted on 11 January 2006.
7 United Nations General Assembly Resolution 65/229, adopted on 21 December 2010.
8 United Nations General Assembly Resolution 70/175, annex, adopted on 17 December 2015.
9 Georgia: 2003-2004 visits, paragraph 86; Slovenia: 2006 visit, paragraphs 52 and 55; United Kingdom (Scotland):
2012 visit, paragraph 44.
10 10th General Report on the CPT’s activities, paragraph 24.
11 Denmark: 2014 visit, paragraph 31.