Alternatives to incarceration in post-socialist countries

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Project Managers: Celina Nowak, PhD Prof. INP PAN & Gintaras Švedas, Prof. (Vilnius University, Lithuania).

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The project received funding from the DAINA2 competition of the National Science Centre.

There are currently around 500 000 people in prison in the European Union and over 1.5 million in the Member States of the Council of Europe. In EU countries, imprisonment is the most serious sanction that can be applied to an individual. As early as 1992, the Council of Europe made recommendations recognising community service penalties and measures as legitimate ways of combating crime by avoiding the negative consequences of imprisonment, pointing out that imprisonment should be viewed as a penalty or a measure of last resort, to be applied only when, owing to the gravity of the crime, other penalties or measures would be manifestly inadequate. However, there is still a difference between the use of incarceration between Eastern and Western Europe. On average, the prisonisation rate in the West does not exceed 100 persons per 100,000 inhabitants, while in Poland it is 190 and in Lithuania 232. The rate is also high in other post-socialist countries, for example, in Estonia it is 181, in Latvia – 183, in the Czech Republic – 202, in Slovakia – 188, in Hungary – 169. However, in Romania the rate is much lower: 106. In Western Europe, the prisonisation rate is generally low: 56 in the Netherlands, 76 in Germany, 99 in Italy and 104 in France.

Project description

The main objective of the project is to answer the questions of why there is still such a difference in the rate of imprisonment between Western and Eastern Europe (sometimes even two or even three times higher per 100,000 inhabitants) and what are the possibilities of regulating punishment and other penal measures in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe in order to eliminate this difference and bring them into line with European standards.

One of the specific objectives of the project is also to analyse electronic surveillance technology in the penal context, taking into account other national criminal law systems as sources of inspiration for Central and Eastern European countries.


The in-depth comparative research, carried out in Polish-Lithuanian cooperation, will cover five national criminal law systems: Lithuanian, Polish, Romanian, Slovak and Estonian. The analysis will be carried out with reference to the regulations of the Council of Europe and the European Union. In addition, other national law systems will also be taken into account when analysing the technology of electronic surveillance in the penal context. The study goes beyond comparativism. The researchers will adopt a comprehensive, multidisciplinary perspective to find ways to reconcile European standards with the conditions in Central and Eastern European countries.

Results of project implementation

The project will enhance the understanding of criminal law systems, and academic discussion of the social and legal conditions of criminal policy in these countries. Until now, there has been no research on alternatives to imprisonment in post-socialist countries.

Cooperation with Vilnius University
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Lithuanian-Polish cooperation on the project will provide a broader research perspective and identify common features of penal policies in the countries of our European region, which have shared historical experiences. On the other hand, Polish and Lithuanian researchers have different social perspectives, as they come from countries of different sizes and populations. The common history, related to the Soviet heritage, accompanied by different social experiences, will offer a unique research perspective and allow us to address the research problem from all angles. In addition, the project will contribute to strengthening academic relations and cooperation in the future.