Prison capital: UK locks up more people than any other EU member state 11.3.16

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The latest Council of Europe (CoE) prison statistics show that the UK imprisons more people than any other member of the European Union, with over 95,000 behind bars. Of the 47 member states of the Council of Europe, only Russia (671,027 people) and Turkey (151,451) have more people in prison. Within the UK, Scotland has the highest rate of incarceration, and between 2005 and 2014 the country's prison population rate rose by over twice as much as in England and Wales.


Across the 47 member states of the Council of Europe, there has been a decline in overcrowding but it remains a serious problem. Europe's prisons "remain close to the top of their capacity, holding 1,600,324 people." The countries with the most overcrowded penal institutons in 2014 were Hungary, Belgium, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Greece, Albania, Spain, France, Slovenia, Portugal, Serbia and Italy. The most common crimes for which people are imprisoned are drug offences (17% of the total prison population) and theft (14%).

factsheet (pdf) published with the reports highlights a rise in the average mortality rate: from 23 per 10,000 inmates in 2012 to 32 per 10,000 inmates in 2013. While natural causes are the most common cause of death in prisons across the Council of Europe, the second most common is suicide, which led to 19% of all deaths. 31% of those who committed suicide were in pre-trial detention.

Official reports

The SPACE (Statistiques Pénales Annuelles du Conseil de l’Europe) reports cover prison populations and non-custodial sanctions and measures. Official SPACE reports and other materials:

UK: the EU's incarceration capital

Britain is the EU’s capital of prisons (EurActiv, link): "The United Kingdom jails more people and spends more money on its prisons than any other member state [of the EU], research published today (8 March) has revealed.

There are 95,248 prisoners behind bars across Great Britain, more than France (77,739), Spain (65,931), Germany (65,710), and Italy (54,252), according to the Council of Europe Annual Penal Statistics."

The annual report is based on information by prison administrations in the 47 members of the Council of Europe. Only Russia (671,027) and Turkey (151,451) had higher inmate numbers.

The total budget for the UK was about €3.9 billion, which is higher than any other country on the list, EU or otherwise, apart from Russia."

See also: UK prison population is highest in EU, report shows (Bradford Telegraph & Argus, link)

Within the UK: Scotland has highest prison population in EU, study reveals (The Scotsman, link): "SCOTLAND’S prison population rate has risen by more than 10 per cent in a decade, according to a major new report.

The study by the Council of Europe found there are around 148 people in jail per 100,000 population in Scotland, compared with the European average of 136.


While the prison population rate in England and Wales rose by 4.9 per cent between 2005 and 2014, the corresponding rise for Scotland was 10.7 per cent."

Regular news and information: Prison Watch UK - News on British prisons and why you should care (link)

Across the EU

Overview: Who's behind bars in EU prisons? (EurActiv, link): "The United Kingdom is the European Union's prison capital, jailing more people than any other member state. But smaller EU states like Luxembourg, Greece and Austria hold the highest number of non-domestic inmates."

CZECH REPUBLIC: Czech prisons are near capacity (Prague Post, link): "The Czech Republic was above average in sentence length and number of prisoners

The Council of Europe has evaluated the state of European prisons. The conclusion of this survey is that t overcrowding reduced slightly in European prisons even if it remains a problem in one in four prison administrations.

From 2011 to 2014, for every 100 places the number of prisoners fell from 99 to 94.

The CzechRepublic is slightly below the average with 93.2 inmates for every 100 places in 2014, but it is one of the countries with the longest average time of imprisonment, at 21.4 months compared to European average of 9 months."

GREECE: Overcrowding in Greece’s prisons among worst in Europe (ekathimerini, link): "Greece has the fourth most overcrowded prisons in Europe, with 121 inmates for every 100 available places compared to a European average of 94 per 100, according to the Council of Europe’s Annual Penal Statistics for 2014, which are being published on Tuesday.

The country ranks just below Hungary, Belgium and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia in terms of prison overcrowding."

HUNGARY: Report: Hungarian Prisons Most Overcrowded In Europe (Hungary Today, link): "Hungary has the most overcrowded prisons in Europe, according to penal statistics released on Tuesday by the Council of Europe.

According to the report, based on Council of Europe statistics for the year 2014, overcrowding has been slowly declining in European prisons since 2011, although it remains a problem in one in four prison administrations across the continent.

While the number of prison administrations suffering from overcrowding decreased significantly – down to 13 in 2014 from 21 in 2013, the problem remains, with Hungary, Belgium and Macedonia being the thre countries with the most overcrowded penal institutions. In 2014, an average of 142 inmates were crammed into units designed to hold 100 people in Hungary, followed by Belgium with a ratio of 134 to 100."

IRELAND: Prisoner escapes twice as likely in Ireland than rest of Europe (Irish Examiner, link): "Prisoners are twice as likely to escape from jails in Ireland than the rest of Europe, inspectors have revealed.

While only six inmates went on the run in 2013, the most up to date figures showed 472 offenders were at large after not returning to prison after temporary release, a hospital visit or by walking out of an open unit.

A study of the 47 Council of Europe countries found there are 14.8 prison escapes for every 10,000 inmates in Ireland.

That compared to 1.6 in England and Wales, none in Northern Ireland, and a European average of 7.8."

NORTHERN IRELAND: Northern Ireland prison population lowest in UK - but number of lifers second highest in Europe (Belfast Telegraph, link): "Northern Ireland has the lowest prison population in the UK - with 101.3 offenders behind bars for every 100,000 people.

The figure may come as a surprise following Maghaberry jail's recent condemnation as the most dangerous prison in the UK.

It compares to 149.7 in England and Wales and 147.6 in Scotland.

...But the report also shows that we have the second highest proportion of lifers in Europe - with 12% of Northern Ireland prisoners serving life sentences. Only Scotland records a higher figure at 16.2%."

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