Prison Overcrowding and Alternatives to Detention


The overall goal of the project is to promote the development and the implementation of alternatives to detention at a EU level, in order to reduce the disproportionate resort to incarceration by legislators and judicial authorities.
The abuse of custodial measures first of all determines prison overcrowding across Europe, that violates fundamental rights of individuals and compromises the mutual trust necessary to underpin judicial cooperation in Europe. What is more, incarceration proves to be dysfunctional both to the rehabilitation of the offenders and to the prevention of recidivism.
Therefore, the project activities are directed to criminal justice operators and policy-makers with the objective of improving their ability to appropriately implement the alternative strategies to detention.
To this end, the project aims to provide criminal justice operators and policy-makers with a strong comparative knowledge of alternatives to detention existing in other Member States. A series of training meetings addressed to legal practitioners and other professionals will be organised by both the coordinator organisation and the partners. In order to organise the meetings, a preliminary study of legal provisions in force in the selected Member States will be carried out. Drawing on this legal analysis, the researchers will then assess the efficiency of a selected number of alternative measures, identifying the best practices and the problems to solve.
Additionally, the project will propose a set of guidelines on the alternatives to detention. The purpose of these guidelines is twofold. On the one hand, they aim to promote the adoption and the implementation of alternatives to incarceration in accordance with Council of Europe standards and rules. On the other hand, they intend to encourage the circulation of best practices on a European level with the aim of fostering mutual recognition and mutual trust in cross-border judicial cooperation.
The focus will not only be limited to analysing the alternatives to detention in the sentencing phase, but will also envisage strategies to avoid incarceration before the trial, as required by the EU Council Roadmap on procedural rights of suspected or accused persons.
The research action will be focused upon Belgium, France, Italy, Romania and Spain, and it is intended to obtain scientific results which may also be useful and effective in other Member States. For this reason, a combined methodology will be used in order to maximise the validity of the results.
The activities will include:
- a comparative study of legal provisions on alternative to detentions in the selected Member States;
- the elaboration of a questionnaire to collect practical data on the implementation of alternatives to detention according to scientific standards;
- three meetings among researchers and law practitioners in order to verify existing good practices and to raise awareness on the advantages of alternatives to detention;
- an integral analysis of legal and empirical findings;
- the practical guidelines and legislative proposal on the alternatives to detention in the EU;
- a two days international congress, to discuss and disseminate the results of the project;
- other activities of dissemination of the results of the project: a) creation of a website (e-newsletters, progress reports); b) presentation of the project to the media, distribution of brochures and leaflets;
- publication of a handbook outlining the guidelines to implement alternatives to detention in the EU.
The results of the investigation and the relationship established among academic partners and the criminal justice operators shall form a starting point for a follow-up of the research beyond the deadline of the EU initial financial support. Furthermore, the core-idea of the project shall be applied to the analysis of the legal systems of other EU Member States.

Project details

 Project coordinator: Alessandro Bernardi

 Funding source: JUST Criminal justice

Start date 1/05/2014 - end date 30/04/2016
Total cost: 312.249 €
EU contribution: 249.766 €
EU contribution to UniFe: 104.311 €


  • Università degli Studi di Ferrara, Coordinator (Italy)
  • Università degli Studi di Milano (Italy)
  • Facultés universitaires Saint-Louis (Belgium)
  • Universidad de Castilla-La Mancha (Spain)