Admission and evaluation
Prisoners can inform their families about their imprisonment
This right is established in Article 211 of the Polish Penal Code. It appears to be respected in most cases.
There is a reception area for arriving prisoners
in some establishments
Only remand centres have new arrival units or cells.
A copy of the prison regulations is made available to the prisoners
A copy of the internal regulations is available in each cell.
Convicted individuals are placed in cells according to criteria such as sex and age in particular, pursuant to Chapter 3, Paragraph 1 of the regulations of the Ministry of Justice. Individuals who present a risk of suicide may be placed with those deemed more psychologically stable.
Access to rights
Prisoners can be assisted by a lawyer throughout their incarceration
Although Polish law guarantees all inmates the right to be assisted by a lawyer, this legal provision is not always respected.
The legal profession is underrepresented, and in small towns, there are too few lawyers. Only a third of inmates are defended by a lawyer in the big cities, where legal aid is the most accessible1.
These de facto limitations of the right to access to a lawyer are not subject to reparation in the Code of Criminal Procedure2.
Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, “Report on the Human Rights of Persons Deprived of Liberty”, 2017, p.12. ↩
Prisoners have access to a legal aid centre
Inmates are able to consult certain websites in order get information about their rights. The accessible sites are selected by the prison administration. Foreign detainees have access to a specific guide.
Untried prisoners are not given information on how to access a lawyer. Lack of money also prevents prisoners from seeking legal counsel1.
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
The prison administration publishes the number of deaths once per year.
Number of deaths in custody
The first cause of mortality is natural death. 93 cases of suspicious deaths were identified between 2014 and 2017.
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
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
Suicide rate in custody (per 10,000 prisoners)
(36 per 100,000 prisoners)
National suicide rate (per 10,000 inhabitants)
The prison service must notify a judicial authority for
some deaths, suspicious deaths
The police and the prosecutor’s office are informed of all suspicious deaths (suicide, violence, etc.). An internal investigation is then ordered, which results in a report identifying the possible problems and the persons that may have caused them. Staff members are rarely admonished for their part in a suspicious death.
The prison governor is required to notify the family immediately after the death. They are informed by telephone or letter. If contact information is not available, the police must identify the relatives and inform them of the death.
Suicide prevention policies are implemented
yes, in 2010
Hanging is the most common form of suicide, followed by using a sharp object and ingesting pills.
Suicide attempts are not subject to disciplinary measures, but the prison administration does require that therapeutic measures be undertaken after a suicide threat or attempt.
In 2016, the administration penned a directive on the prevention of suicide, Directive n° 2/2016. This directive details methods of risk reduction, which involve the systematic monitoring of suicide risk factors by various prison staff.
Particular attention is paid to the behaviour of individuals imprisoned during periods of crisis, especially when these individuals are isolated. This is the case during the first 14 days of imprisonment when inmates are informed of legal judgments or decisions made concerning them, during tense moments with relatives or with other inmates, or during serious health issues.
The following are some recommended suicide prevention measures:
- monitoring inmates who exhibit suicidal tendencies
- providing psychological care
- installing surveillance systems inside cells (including bathrooms, but with blurred images)
- placing the at-risk person with another inmate who might provide support
- inspecting letters, telephone conversations and visits
- providing therapy to address drug dependence
- placing the inmate in a secure cell1
Following a visit in 2017, the CPT noted the absence of allegations of physical ill-treatment by the staff and the small number of complaints of verbal abuse1.
The Helsinki Committee stated that the most frequent complaints are of physical or verbal abuse by staff members.
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. 5. ↩
The prohibition of torture is enshrined in the Constitution and the legislation
The right to the protection from torture and other forms of ill-treatment is guaranteed by Article 40 of the 1997 Constitution of the Republic of Poland. It states that “no one may be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.” The prohibition of torture is also mentioned in the Polish Penal Code under the headings “Offences against peace, and humanity, and war crimes” (Articles 118. § 1 and 123) and “Offences against the Administration of Justice” (Articles 246 and 247). A prison sentence between 5 and 25 years may be imposed in cases involving torture.
Torture and other forms of ill-treatment are not explicitly defined in the legislation and are notably missing in the Penal Code.
The United Nations Convention against Torture (UNCAT) was
ratified in 1989
The medical staff of the prison is not trained to identify and document signs of torture and ill-treatment.
In 2016, the Polish NPM published the case of an inmate who was beaten by a police officer before his arrival in prison (in Polish). Despite visible injuries on his face, the medical staff did not record the incident in his medical file. A general motion of the NPM indicated the urgent need to train prison medical staff in the regulations of the Istanbul Protocol.
The most common forms of violence between inmates are fights and beatings. The attacks typically occur shortly after incarceration, in unsupervised areas such as bathrooms and rooms normally used for strip searches.
Most of the attacks occur inside cells, as members of rival gangs sometimes share cells. Some vulnerable inmates are also targets of violence. Fights often break out in the exercise yards. The decreased usage of communal showers has reduced the number of attacks that take place there.
This violence is exacerbated by overpopulation and insufficient staff.
The CPT considers the staff to be adequately trained in the prevention of violence and says that staff reactions to violence are appropriate1.
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 are required to do their utmost to ensure the independence and the impartiality of the investigations meant to identify the circumstances of the event and the responsible parties. The prison administration does not publish any data on this subject.
The ECHR reserves its condemnations for inhuman or degrading treatment related to poor conditions in detention, such as overpopulation, or to repressive measures, such as long-term isolation or a dangerous regime being imposed on prisoners.
Number of complaints filed by prisoners against the prison service
Including 6,675 regarding health care (17.5%). 422 were considered as justified complaints1.
Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, “Improving Prison Conditions by Strengthening the Monitoring of HIV, HCV, TB and Harm Reduction”, 2015. ↩
Inmates can file complaints against the prison administration. The most common reasons for complaints are living conditions, ill-treatment, and health care. Complaints must include justification and must conform to administrative standards1. Complaints will not be examined if they:
- contain vulgar words or profanity, insults, or slang
- are based on recurring circumstances and events or that have already been the subject of a complaint
- are deemed to have insufficient motivation2
Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, “Report on the Human Rights of Persons Deprived of Liberty”, 2017, p. 17. ↩
The human rights commissioner (Rzecznik Praw Obywatelskich) has received numerous complaints from inmates about hygiene conditions in prisons, and the absence of measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19. The inmates have claimed that they lack toiletries, cleaning products and hot water. They have stated that it is impossible for them to observe social distancing in their cells, in the showers, in the canteen or in the exercise yard. Those inmates who are ill with possible Covid-19 symptoms have allegedly not been tested. The prison facilities and the telephones are purportedly not being cleaned regularly. Access to medical care and legal advice has become more difficult for prisoners during the lockdown. The inmates are reportedly unable to work and are therefore deprived of a source of income. Measures intended to maintain contact with families, such as longer, more frequent phone calls, have not been applied consistently. The commissioner has demanded an explanation for these allegations from the prison authorities.
The internal regulations define the modalities for filing complaints and the administrative body responsible for examining them.
Complaints and requests must be examined without undue delay, no later than 14 days after the notification of receipt. This period can be extended in justified cases.
The Regulation of the Ministry of Justice of 13 August 2003 on the modalities for the examination of applications and complaints of untried prisoners and inmates (OJ 2013, 647) constitutes the specific provisions in this matter.
Complaints are handled by:
- the prison governor, if the complaint is addressed directly to him and concerns a transfer issue or the behaviour of an employee or an official
- the regional director of the prison administration, if the complaint concerns the activity of an establishment under his administrative supervision
- the director general of the prison administration or a person designated by him, if the complaint concerns the activity of the regional management of the prison administration
- the Minister of Justice or a person designated by him, if the complaint concerns the activity of the central management of the prison administration
Inmates can file complaints with a judge against a decision of the prison governor or the general or regional management of the prison services. Individuals deprived of liberty can also file complaints with the European Court of Human Rights and the United Nations Human Rights Committee. Although there are several methods of filing complaints, inmates rarely see results, meaning they do not have effective options for responding to violations of their rights in detention.
National Preventive Mechanisms and other external control bodies
The Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT) was
ratified in 2005
signed in 1986
An NPM has been established
yes, in 2008
Name of the NPM
The Commissioner for Human Rights
(Rzecznik praw obywatelskich)
The NPM has come into office
yes, in 2008
The NPM was appointed by
Structure of the NPM
Term of office of the NPM
The NPM reports are made public
Number of visits made by the NPM during the year
The legislation allows the NPM to carry out unannounced visits
The NPM can monitor all prison facilities, units and premises
Following up on the implementation of NPM recommendations occurs primarily in writing. The Commissioner for Human Rights communicates directly with the establishment in question. A follow-up visit is sometimes organised to verify the implementation of the recommendation.
A regional body monitors the places of deprivation of liberty
yes, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture
Its reports are made public
The reports published by the CPT following their visits to Poland are available 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
The visit report has not yet been published.
The prison facilities are subject to other external monitoring bodies.
The highest supervisory authority is the Supreme Audit Office, an independent entity which monitors public finances and is authorised to visit prisons. The Supreme Court conducted an enquiry in 2011 regarding the health care provided in prison.
The prisons are placed under the supervision of penitentiary judges. Articles 32 to 36 of the Penal Enforcement Code states that the penitentiary judge can access any establishment at any time. In practice, the penitentiary judges visit the prisons once per year1.
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. 63. ↩
The budget of the ombudsman has decreased over the last few years, going from $9,457,000 (PLN 37 million) in 2015 to $8,947,000 (PLN 35 million) in 2016.
The specific budget allocated to the NPM in 2016 was $605,400 (about PLN 2 million). This amount was not enough to finance the committee of experts created in 2016. Although 121 visits were carried out in 2015, there were only 85 in 20161.
European Committee for the Prevention of Torture, “Report to the Polish Government on the visit to Poland from 11 to 22 May 2017”, 2018, pp. 10-11. ↩
Sentence adjustments policies
The law provides for a sentence adjustment system
If the court judges the likelihood of repeat offence to be low, a prisoner might receive a conditional release. The court takes into account:
- the attitude of the petitioner
- his personal situation
- the circumstances of the offence
- the behaviour after having committed the offense and during the sentence
The penitentiary court, a department of the regional court, is the competent authority for authorising sentence adjustments.
The sentence can be adjusted as soon as it is pronounced (ab initio)
Sentence adjustments can be granted during the incarceration
According to Polish law, a conditional release may be requested after the completion of part of a custodial sentence. Article 77 of the Penal Code states that a convicted person may be released conditionally after having served at least half of their sentence.
This requirement may be increased for repeat offenders.
Prisoners can contest a negative decision of sentence adjustment
The prisoner can always appeal the decision of the court. A request for conditional release can be renewed after three or six months.
The law provides for a temporary release system
In medium security prisons (semi-open), prisoners can obtain permission to leave every two months, for a maximum of 14 days per year.
In minimum security prisons (open), prisoners can theoretically obtain permission once per month, for a maximum of 28 days per year.
The law provides for a sentence adjustment for medical reasons
The court can grant a sentence adjustment in case of serious illness, according to Articles 153-1 and Article 150-1 of the Penal Enforcement Code.
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.
Presidential pardons are granted by the Polish President.