The Covid-19 pandemic contributed to reducing the prison population in Europe between January 2020 and January 2021, consolidating a ten-year-long trend in most European states, according to the Council of Europe’s Annual Penal Statistics on Prison Populations for 2021, (see also Key findings).
Key factors contributing to the decrease of the prison population were the reduction in certain types of crimes in the context of the restrictions of movement during the pandemic, the slowing down of the judicial systems, and the release schemes used in some countries to prevent or reduce the spread of Covid-19.
On 31 January 2021, there were 1,414,172 inmates detained in the 49 prison administrations of Council of Europe member states that provided this information (out of 52), which corresponds to a European prison population rate of 102 inmates per 100,000 inhabitants. In the 48 prison administrations for which information is available for both 2020 and 2021, this rate fell from 104.3 to 101.9 inmates per 100,000 inhabitants (-2.3%).
The countries with the highest incarceration rates on 31 January 2021 were Russia (328 inmates per 100,000 inhabitants), Turkey (325), Georgia (232), Azerbaijan (216), Slovakia (192), Lithuania (190) and the Czech Republic (180). Not taking into account countries with less than 300,000 inhabitants, the lowest incarceration rates were found in Iceland (41), Finland (43), Republika Srpska (Bosnia and Herzegovina) (50), Netherlands (54) and Slovenia (54).
The SPACE surveys are conducted every year for the Council of Europe by the University of Lausanne. The SPACE I survey contains information from 52 prison administrations in the Council of Europe member states, whereas the SPACE II survey focuses on probation populations.