Prisoners can inform their families about their imprisonment


The detainee has the right to inform a person of his choice about the detention.

Also, in accordance with the article 211§ 2 of Polish penal executive code, arrested persons have the right to inform family or another person about the place of his stay, without delay after settling him in the prison facility. This right is fully respected in practice.

There is a reception area for arriving prisoners

in some establishments

Reception areas – transition cells – are present only in pre-trial detention centres. Even sentenced inmates are first admitted to the pre-trial detention centre in order to carry out the necessary procedures related to the admission into the unit.

A copy of the prison regulations is made available to the prisoners


A copy of the internal prison rules is available in each cell.

According to Chapter 3 paragraph 1 of the regulations of the Ministry of Justice: “Convicted persons must be placed in residential cells, taking into account, in particular, sex and age”. People at risk of suicide may be placed with more psychologically stable people.

Prisoners can be assisted by a lawyer throughout their incarceration


Polish law guarantees every person who is detained the right to be assisted by a lawyer.

In practice, this legal disposition is not fully respected by law enforcement agencies or judicial courts.

The legal profession is under-represented leading to the dissatisfaction of all needs. In particular, the number of lawyers is insufficient in small towns, and for people in pre-trial detention. To illustrate this difficulty, it is noted that in large cities, where the legal assistance is more common, only one-third of the inmates are defended by a lawyer1.

This de facto limitations of the right to access to a lawyer are not subject to remedy in the Code of Criminal Procedure 2.

  1. Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, “Pre-trial detention in Poland” 2015, p. 54. 

  2. Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, “Report on the Human Rights of Persons Deprived of Liberty”, (in polish), 2017, p.12. 

Prisoners have access to a legal aid centre


Inmates have the possibility to consult some websites in order to obtain information on their rights. The accessible sites are selected by the prison administration. Foreign inmates have access to a specific guide.

Accused persons do not receive information to help them find a lawyer. Those who do not have the means to afford legal services are deprived of the right of access to lawyer1.

  1. Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, “O(not)available access to a lawyer”, (in polish), 2017. 

An accused person has the right to prepare his/her defence with his/her lawyer before the trial. The confidentiality of exchanges and visits between an inmate and their lawyer is guaranteed. The presence of the lawyer is not mandatory during the interrogations.

Deaths in custody are logged in a register


Figures on deaths in prison custody are published on a regular basis (annually).

Number of deaths in custody


The first cause of mortality is natural death. 93 cases of suspicious deaths were identified between 2014 and 2017.

/ Central Council of Penitentiary Services - Bureau of Information and Statistics

Variation in the number of deaths in custody

decreased by 11.4%

123 persons died in prison in 2016.

Number of deaths attributed to suicide


/ SPACE I, 2018, p. 100.

The most common method of committing suicide is hanging. A less common method but still prevalent are cuts resulting in death or drug poisoning.

Variation in the number of suicides

decreased by 15.4%

26 inmates committed suicide in 2016.

Death rate in custody (per 10,000 prisoners)


per 10,000 prisoners

/ SPACE I, 2018, p. 100.

Suicide rate in custody (per 10,000 prisoners)


(36 per 100,000 prisoners)

/ Central Council of Penitentiary Services

National suicide rate (per 10,000 inhabitants)

1.34/10 000


The prison service must notify a judicial authority for

suspicious deaths

In the case of an extraordinary incident, such a suicide, in addition to notifying the police and the prosecutor’s office, explanatory proceedings take place on the basis of internal procedures (order of the director of prison service from 2013). When the explanatory proceeding is completed, a report is prepared indicating possible problems and violations, with an indication of the persons responsible for their appearance.

Even though the circumstances of suspicious deaths are always formally investigated (internal proceedings), the staff is rarely found liable.

In the event of the prisoner’s death, the director of the prison unit shall inform the family immediately. Information is delivered by phone (if the prisoner has provided a phone number of a family member) or sent by mail. If there is no phone number and address in prison files, the police has to search the relatives and inform them of death.

Suicide prevention policies are implemented

yes, since 2010

The most common method of committing suicide is hanging. A less common method but still prevalent are cuts resulting in death or drug poisoning.

In 2016, the Prison Service prepared an instruction on the prevention of suicides of persons deprived of liberty (Instruction no. 2/2016). This manual sets out the methods of suicide risk control. The instructions systematically involve officers of many prison service divisions to monitor suicide risk factors.

Particular attention is paid to the behavior of prisoners in critical moments of isolation, which are: the first 14 days of imprisonment, breakthrough moments (judgments, prosecutor’s decisions), serious problems in family relations or close relatives, serious problems in relations with other prisoners, serious health problems.

Some of the measures to prevent suicide are:

  • Observe of inmates who show suicidal tendencies
  • Provide psychological care
  • Install a surveillance system inside the cells (including the toilets but with blurred vision)
  • Place the person at risk with another fellow inmate who can provide support
  • Censor the correspondence, phone conversations and visits
  • Therapy to address drug dependencies
  • Builds infrastructure that reduces suicide risk1.

  1. European Prison Observatory, “Prison conditions in Poland” 2013, p.17. 

The prohibition of torture is enshrined in the Constitution and the legislation


The right to be free from torture and other ill-treatment is guaranteed by Article 40 of the 1997 Constitution of the Republic of Poland, which provides that “[n]o one may be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.“ The prohibition of torture is further mentioned in the Penal Code of Poland under the “offences against peace, humanity and war crimes” (Articles 118a and 123) as well as “offences against the administration of justice” (Articles 246 and 247).

A prison sentence ranging from 5 to 25 years can be pronounced in cases involving acts of torture.

Torture and other ill-treatment are not explicitly defined in legislation, in particular, in the Penal Code.

The United Nations Convention against Torture (UNCAT) was

ratified in 1989

All allegations and suspicions of ill-treatment inflicted on prisoners are logged


If a case of violence is denounced, the director of the unit is obliged to inform his superior and the police / prosecution. Such events are recorded in the prison service system.

The only record of body injuries is kept in the prisoner’s medical file. The CPT advices to keep a register of prisoners’ injuries in each facility in order to help identify cases of ill-treatment easily1.

  1. European Committee for the Prevention of Torture, “Report to the Polish Government on the visit to Poland from 11 to 22 May 2017”, 2018, p.38. 

Prison medical staff does not have adequate skills and knowledge to effectively identify and document the signs of torture.

The staff is trained to prevent inter-prisoner violence cases and to well-react in case of violence between inmates 1.

  1. European Committee for the Prevention of Torture, “Report to the Polish Government on the visit to Poland from 11 to 22 May 2017”, 2018, p.31. 

Each prison facility keeps an updated record of violence between inmates


Acts of violence between prisoners are investigated


The authorities apply all means to assure the independence and impartiality of the investigations. Explanatory proceedings are conducted to determine the circumstances of the event and identify the responsible persons. The Prison Service office does not release any public data in this regard.

Condemnations by the ECtHR for inhuman and degrading treatments in prison are mainly related to poor living conditions or overly repressive measures (overcrowding, long-term isolation, regime imposed of dangerous prisoners…).

Verbal abuses from staff tend to be common.

Aggressions tend to occur soon after the arrival of the prisoner to the prison unit, in unmonitored places (like the restrooms) and in the rooms for body searches.

The most common forms of violence between prisoners are fights and beatings. Most cases of violence take place inside the cells. This is due to the fact that gang members may share their cells with inmates from a rival gang or with those who are not a part of the prison subculture. A lot of fights also take place in walking squares, although not all of them are registered. The number of cases of violence in baths decreased in recent years because, in many units, the common baths were closed down.

Cases of violence between inmates can be exacerbated by prison overcrowding and lack of staff.

Number of complaints filed by prisoners against the prison service


Including 6,675 regarding health care (17.5%). 422 were considered as justified complaints1.

Inmates can file complaints against the penitentiary administration. The most recurring reasons of complaints are: living conditions, ill-treatment, and health care.

A complaint must include a justification and satisfy formal requirements.1.

Complaints and requests containing: vulgar words (familiarly swearing), insulting words and slang, based on circumstances and events already repeated, previously explained and lacking motivation motions for their review may not be examined2.

  1. Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, “Report on the Human Rights of Persons Deprived of Liberty”, 2017, p.17. 

  2. Polish Penitentiary Administration, “Prisoner Guide”, 2017, p. 12. 

The prison internal rules define the modalities and the administration body dealing with complaints. Complaints and requests are reviewed without undue delay, no later than 14 days after the notification of receipt. This period may be extended in justified cases.

The Regulation of the Minister of Justice, from 13 August 2003 on the modalities for the examination of applications and complaints of untried prisoners and detainees (OJ 2013, 647), constitute the specific provisions in this matter.

Complaints are handled by:

  • The prison director, if the complaint is addressed directly to him concerning the conduction of an official or an employee or transfer issues
  • The Regional Director of Penitentiary Services, if the complaint concerns the activity of an establishment under its supervision
  • The Director General of Penitentiary Services or a person designated by him/her, if the complaint concerns the activity of the Regional Directorate of Prison Services
  • The Minister of Justice or the person designated by him/her, if the complaint concerns the activity of the Central Directorate of Prison Services

Inmates have the right to lodge a complaint with a prison judge against the decisions of the prison governor or the Director of Penitentiary Services (general and regional).

Prisoners can also file a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights and the Human Rights Committee in Geneva.

Despites the many possibilities to address their complaints, inmates do not have remedies that are effective enough for the breaches of their detention conditions.

The Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT) was

yes, in 2005

An NPM has been established

yes, in 2008

Name of the NPM

Commissioner for Human Rights

(Rzecznik praw obywatelskich)

The NPM has come into office

yes, in 2008

The NPM was appointed by

the Ombudsman

Structure of the NPM

individual body

Term of office of the NPM


The NPM reports are made public


Number of visits made by the NPM during the year


/ Commissioner for Human Rights

The legislation allows the NPM to carry out unannounced visits


The NPM can monitor all prison facilities, units and premises


The follow-up of the implementation of a recommendation is mainly done by written letters. In this way, the Commissioner for Human Rights communicates directly with the institution concerned. A second visit is sometimes organised to verify the fulfillment of the recommendation.

An international regional body monitors the places of deprivation of liberty

yes, the CPT

To browse through the reports published by the CPT following its visits to Poland, go here.

Its reports are made public


To browse through the reports published by the CPT following its visits to Poland, go here.

The Subcommittee for the Prevention of Torture (SPT) has visited the country

yes, from 8 to 9 July 2018

Its report was made public


As of April 2019, the report of the visit is not published yet.

Penitentiary institutions are subject to other external oversight mechanisms.

The ultimate supervisory authority is the Supreme Audit Office. It is an independent entity controlling public expenditure. This institution has the ability to visit prisons. In 2011, this Supreme Court conducted an investigation on the medical services provided by prison.

Prisons are placed under the supervision of penitentiary judges. According to article 32-36 of the Code of Execution of Penalties Penitentiary, the prison judge may access any prison at any time. In practice, penitentiary judges visit prisons at most once a year1

  1. European Committee for the Prevention of Torture, “Report to the Polish Government on the visit to Poland from 11 to 22 May 2017”, 2018, 2018, p. 50. 

The budget of the NPM has decreased in recent years: from 37 million PLN in 2015 to 35 million PLN in 2016.

The specific budget allocated to the NPM in 2016 was 2,361,864 PNL (550,110 €). The budget is no longer sufficient to finance the committee of experts set up in 2016. While 121 visits were carried out in 2015, there were 85 in 2016 1.

  1. European Committee for the Prevention of Torture, “Report to the Polish Government on the visit to Poland from 11 to 22 May 2017”, 2018, 2018, pp.10-11. 

The law provides for a sentence adjustment system


A prisoner can be conditionally released if the court estimates the person will not commit an offence again. The court shall take into account:

  • the attitude of the applicant
  • personal conditions
  • the circumstances of the offence
  • behaviour after committing the offence and while serving a sentence

The penitentiary court, which is a department of the common Regional Court, is the authority competent to authorize the adjustment of sentences.

The sentence can be adjusted as soon as it is pronounced (ab initio)


Sentence adjustments can be granted during the incarceration


Polish law allows to apply for conditional release from serving part of the penalty of deprivation of liberty. As stated in the Penal Code (art. 77), a convicted person may be conditionally released after having served at least half of the sentence, but in some cases this requirement may be aggravated :

  • the convict who has been re-offended can be conditionally released after serving two thirds of the sentence,
  • a convicted person who has been reoffended may be conditionally released after serving three quarters of the sentence.

Prisoners can contest a negative decision of sentence adjustment


The prisoner can always appeal the court’s decision. A parole can be reapplied after three or six months.

The law provides for a temporary release system


In medium security (semi-open) prisons, inmates can obtain permissions every two months for a period not exceeding 14 days during the year.

In low security (open) prisons, inmates can theoretically obtain permission every month for a period not exceeding 28 days a year.

The law provides for a sentence adjustment for medical reasons


According to article 153 -1 in connection with article 150 -1 of penal executive code, the court may give a break in imprisonment due to serious illness.

Number of prisoners who have been granted a presidential pardon or amnesty during the year


Twenty-one prisoners were granted a presidential pardon in 2017.

/ Polish President official Website.

Presidential pardons are granted by the Polish President.