Europe: Prison population continues to decline, overcrowding remains a serious problem

Imprisonment rates continue to fall, find the latest Council of Europe penal statistics, although the report says this is due to the inability to prosecute cyber-enabled criminal offences rather than a shift away from incarceration as a form of punishment. Drug offences remain the reason for most convictions leading to imprisonment, making up 17.7% of the total prison population. The CoE press release also highlights that overcrowding remains a serious problem in a number of member states.


Press release published by the Council of Europe on 8 April 2021.


Strasbourg, 08.04.2021 – The overall European imprisonment rate- the number of persons in prison per 100,000 inhabitants - fell again slightly in 2020, consolidating a trend that started in 2013, according to the Council of Europe’s Annual Penal Statistics on Prison Populations for 2020, released today (see also the Key findings).

On 31 January 2020, there were 1,528,343 inmates in 51 prison administrations (out of 52) of the Council of Europe member states, which corresponds to a European prison population rate of 103.2 inmates per 100,000 inhabitants. In the 50 prison administrations for which data are available for both 2019 and 2020 this rate fell from 106.1 to 104.3 inmates per 100,000 inhabitants (-1.7%).

Since 2013, when it peaked at 131 inmates per 100,000 inhabitants, this rate has fallen every year, reaching an overall decline of 20%. According to Professor Marcelo Aebi, Head of the SPACE research team from the University of Lausanne, this reduction partly reflects the decrease of traditional offences like theft and robbery over that period, which has not been compensated by the increase of cyber-related offences, namely cyber-frauds. Cybercrimes lead to less convictions because the perpetrators are often based outside the national territory and are difficult to trace and sanction.

The countries with the highest incarceration rates in January 2020 were Turkey (357 inmates per 100,000 inhabitants), Russia (356), Georgia (264), Lithuania (220) Azerbaijan (209), Czech Republic (197), Poland (195), Slovak Republic (193) and Estonia (184). Not taking into account countries with less than 300,000 inhabitants, the lowest incarceration rates were found in Iceland (45), Finland (50), Netherlands (59) and Norway (59).

For the first time, information was collected on the number of children living with their mothers in penal institutions, a total of 1,608 children in 37 administrations that provided this data. In most administrations (21) children could stay with their mothers inside penal institutions up to 3 years, the second most common limit being 1 year (7 countries). This issue has been of particular concern for the Council of Europe, which in 2018 issued a Recommendation to its member states aimed at protecting children with imprisoned parents, including infants living with their parents in prison. It is estimated that more than 2 million children in Europe have a parent in prison

The 87,367 women in prison represented 5% of the total prison population. The median age of all inmates was 36 years, 15% of them being over 50 and 2.5% of them 65 or over. The overall percentage of foreign inmates among the prison population increased from 14.4% in 2019 to 15.1% in the 40 countries that provided this data, but with important differences across countries. The proportion of inmates not serving a final sentence remained stable (22%).

Overall, prison density in Europe remained stable: there were 90.3 inmates for every 100 available places in prisons compared to the 89.5 inmates per 100 places in 2019. Fourteen prisons administration reported prison density of more than 100 inmates per 100 places – an indicator of overcrowding - one administration less than in 2019. Overall overcrowding was most serious - on 31 January - in Turkey (127 inmates per 100 available places), Italy (120), Belgium (117), Cyprus (116), France (116), Hungary (113) Romania (113), Greece (109), Slovenia (109) and Serbia (107).

Drug-related offences continued to be the reason for which prisoners had been convicted most often in the 42 prison administrations that provided this data (close to 260,000 inmates representing 17.7% of the total prison population), followed by theft (199,000 inmates, 13%) and homicide – including attempts -(169,000, 12%). Four of every 10 inmates had been convicted for offences involving violence (homicide, assault and battery, rape and other sexual offences, and robbery).

Close to 8 out of 100 inmates had been convicted for rape or other types of sexual offences: a total of 81,188 prisoners. Three of every 100 prisoners were serving sentences for traffic offences: some 24,000 prisoners in the 40 administrations that provided this data. Prison administrations reported having 30,524 prisoners convicted for terrorism offences, most of them in Turkey (29,827), followed by France (292) and Spain (209).

For methodological reasons, some of the data collected refer to the year 2019. At European level, the average length of imprisonment- which strongly impacts prison imprisonment rates -fell from 8.1 to 7.8 months from 2018 to 2019. The cost of imprisonment grew by 5%, totaling 27 billion euros in the 42 prison administrations that provided this information.

***

The SPACE surveys are conducted every year for the Council of Europe by the University of Lausanne. The SPACE I survey contains information from prison administrations in the 47 Council of Europe member states, whereas the SPACE II survey focuses on probation populations.

Notes

  • Forty-eight of the 52 prison administrations in the 47 Council of Europe member states participated in the SPACE I 2020 survey. Bosnia and Herzegovina (State and federal levels and Republika Srpska) and Ukraine did not participate. For certain indicators concerning these administrations data were retrieved from other sources.
  • Unless specified otherwise, data refer to 31 January 2020 and are expressed in median values, which are more reliable than average figures as they are less sensitive to extreme figures.
  • When considering prison density, it must be noted that countries with a lower total number of inmates than their overall prison capacity at national level may also suffer from overcrowding in specific prisons.

Infographics

Countries with the highest total number of inmates

Countries with more inmates than places available in prisons (overcrowding)

Countries with the highest prison population rates

#EuropeanPrisons2020

Press Contact

Jaime Rodriguez, Spokesperson/Media officer, tel. +33 6 89 99 50 42


Image: Council of Europe

 

Spotted an error? If you've spotted a problem with this page, just click once to let us know.

Report error