The end of lockdown measures to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic produced a rebound effect in the incarceration rates in many European countries between January 2021 and January 2022: the median incarceration rate rose by 2.3% in countries exceeding one million inhabitants, according to the Council of Europe’s Annual Penal Statistics on Prison Populations for 2022, released today (see also the Key findings).
The prison administrations of Bulgaria (-8%), Estonia (-6.3%) and Germany (-5.5%) were the only three to report a noteworthy decrease in their incarceration rates in countries exceeding one million inhabitants. At the same time, 16 experienced a substantial increase: Slovenia (+23%), Finland (+15%), France (+15%), Northern Ireland (UK) (+13%), Montenegro (+12%), Croatia (+10%), Türkiye (+9.2%), Sweden (+8.2%), Albania (+8.2%), Hungary (+7.9%), Armenia (+7.9%), Latvia (+7.3%), Romania (+6.5%), Poland (+6.1%), North Macedonia (+5.8%), and Denmark (+5.5%). In other 24 prison administrations, the prison population rates remained stable.
In the previous year, from January 2020 to January 2021, the overall European incarceration had fallen due to the decrease in street crime in the context of the movement restrictions during the pandemic, the slowing down of the judicial systems, and the implementation of release schemes in some countries.
“Throughout the last 12 years, the average European incarceration rate has slowly but consistently fallen. That drop was intensified during 2020 as a consequence of the Covid-19 lockdown measures. Therefore, the increase in 2022 reflects a return to relative normality in social life and the functioning of the European criminal justice systems. Despite that increase, the European incarceration rate in 2022 is still lower than that observed at the beginning of 2020, before the pandemic. This suggests the continuation of the consistent decline observed since 2011”, according to Professor Marcelo Aebi, Head of the SPACE research team from the University of Lausanne.