The report

On 28 April 2009 the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) passed Resolution 1663 (2009), which calls on the 47 member states of the Council of Europe to implement without delay the provisions of the revised European Prison Rules. Of the 41 recommendations in the report, 32 take up recommendations from QCEA’s ground- breaking Women in Prison report published in early 2007.

In 2004 QCEA, in parallel with the Quaker United Nations Office (QUNO), began a project to gather information on women in prison in Europe. The role of QCEA was to gather data on the conditions of women in prison in the member states of the Council of Europe.

Part One of this report gives the results of the project and makes recommendations to the European Institutions and their member states on ways in which conditions for women in prison can be improved. Part Two is comprised of country reports which look in detail at the situation for women in prison in thirteen Council of Europe member states.

A glossary of terms and acronyms is now available to assist in reading and understanding the papers produced by the QCEA on criminal justice matters.

Why women prisoners?

Unlike most male prisoners women do not have someone on the outside holding onto the family home and possessions and caring for their children. Women suffer disproportionately from being held far from their families and being separated from their children, receiving fewer visitors than men. Women are often lone carers, and we are concerned about what happens to children and elderly relatives in need of care when the women who care for them are imprisoned. We notice the poverty in most prisoners’ families and that poverty usually increases with imprisonment.

Due to their small numbers women often have less access to services, such as suitable education, than men. Their security regimes are often disproportionately harsher than men’s because there are not enough women to make up separate blocks. Women’s health care needs such as ante-natal care are often overlooked, as are their different needs in drug-addiction and mental health. Female prisoners have a higher rate of mental illness and are more likely to have been victims of physical and sexual abuse than the general population. Women have high rates of suicide and self-harm in prison.

Consider these statistics for teenage girls in prison in Britain :

  • 65% of girls in prison had experienced family breakdown
  • 40% had spent time in local authority care.
  • 41% reported drug or alcohol abuse
  • 22% self-harmed

The prison environment is no place to solve these problems. We believe that prison fosters inequality and deprivation by picking out the poorest and most vulnerable for punishment. We wish to see a more just, long-sighted, humane and cost-effective reaction to crime.

The Project


There is a body of work on women and criminal justice but surprisingly little detailing the lives of women prisoners inside prisons. National governments differ in how much information they collect. QCEA sent out hundreds of questionnaires to NGOs, governments and individual contacts.

We visited prisons in various European countries to observe conditions for ourselves. We spoke to staff and prisioners and toured accommodation, classrooms, recreation facilities, etc. You can download copies of our reports and other materials at the bottom of this page.

Gender Critique of the 2006 European Prison Rules

A revised version of the European Prison Rules was adopted on the 11 January 2006 by the Committee of Ministers at the Council of Europe. The last prison rules date from 1987, and the new Rules contain many improvements.

QCEA welcomes the new Rules but would like to see more content concerning women. Our Gender Critique suggests specific additions to the rules which would benefit women in prison.


Part One (the main report):

Part Two (the country reports):

This section includes reports on visits to individual prisons where we carried these out. Prison visits took place in 2005. Not all of the individual prison visit reports are downloadable.

  1. Horserød Prison (pdf – 56kB) >>
  2. Ringe Prison (report unavailable)
  1. Tartu Prison (pdf – 49kB) >>
  2. Harku Prison (pdf – 42kB) >>
  3. Tallinn Prison (pdf – 58kB) >>
  1. San Vittore Prison (report unavailable)
  1. Ilguciema Prison (pdf – 91kB) >>

Further documents:

    1. Questionnaire for staff (pdf – 59kB) >>
    2. Questionnaire for prisoners (pdf – 67kB) >>