At the initiative of the Socialists and Democrats, the subcommittee on human rights in the European Parliament held today a remote exchange of views with experts on the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic in prisons and other types of places of detention that are massively overpopulated in many states. To mitigate the risk of infections, the S&Ds call on governments to consider reducing populations in detention through the release of low risk categories or pre-trial detainees. All prisoners of conscience, including human rights defenders whose detention is not justified, must be released immediately.

S&D MEP Maria Arena, president of the subcommittee on human rights, said:

“The coronavirus crisis highlights a number of unacceptable and recurrent problems in prisons, including massive overcrowding, that have been known and denounced by many NGOs for a long time. This crisis must be an opportunity to resolve these problems, and to make us rethink the system of imprisonment so that detention is always the last solution, while guaranteeing the respect of human rights.

“Furthermore, prisoners of conscience, including human rights activists, political prisoners and journalists, must be released as quickly as possible. The EU should put pressure in this regard on all its partners across the world.”

Isabel Santos, S&D MEP and spokesperson on human rights, added:

“In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, some governments opted to release some prisoners to help combat the virus. Unfortunately, certain governments decided to keep all their political prisoners detained, and thereby put their lives in danger. Besides, in some countries, new restrictive measures and problems related to the pandemic have contributed to the current state of insecurity and health hazards inside prisons. For example, in Brazil there is very worrying news of riots occurring inside some detention facilities.

“The S&D Group has continually called for the release of all political prisoners globally, and now, during the Covid-19 pandemic, it is more urgent than ever. It is unacceptable that some governments are using the pandemic as a pretext to even exacerbate the treatment of their detained critics. We remind them that states are obliged to provide adequate health care and sanitary facilities to all prisoners.

“We also call on governments to prevent Covid-19 infections in other types of places of detention, like centres for migrants and refugees.”

Note to editors:

According to a 2019 report on global prison trends, there are more than 10 million men, women  and children in prison worldwide, and jails are overcrowded in at least 121 countries.

MEPs involved






S&D press contact

Czerny-grimm Inga


Press Officer

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