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Europe’s rate of imprisonment falls, according to Council of Europe survey

Strasbourg 2 April 2019
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Europe’s rate of imprisonment falls, according to Council of Europe survey

The overall imprisonment rate in Europe fell by 6.6% between 2016 and 2018 - from 109.7 to 102.5 inmates per 100,000 inhabitants- according to the Council of Europe Annual Penal Statistics for 2018 (SPACE), published today (see also the key findings).

This decrease continues a trend that started in 2012 when the incarceration rate, an indicator mainly determined by the length of the prison sentences, began to fall. The reduction of the incarceration rate in 27 prison administrations in 2018 was accompanied by a decrease in the average length of imprisonment, which fell from 8.8 to 8.2 months (-6.8%) across Europe. In contrast, the percentage of pre-trial detainees increased from 17.4% to 22.4% of the total prison population.

The countries where the incarceration rate decreased the most were Romania (-16%), Bulgaria (-15%), Norway (-11.6), Finland (-9.9%) and North Macedonia (-9.7%), followed by Armenia (-8.7%), Latvia (-8.4%), Luxembourg (-7.1%), Estonia (-5.7%) and Cyprus (-5.5%). On the other hand, incarceration rates increased the most in Iceland (+25.4%), Italy (+7.5%), Netherlands (+5.9%), Denmark (+5.8%) and Montenegro (+5.5%).

Countries with particularly high incarceration rates continued to be Russia (418.3 inmates per 100,000 inhabitants), Georgia (252.2), Azerbaijan (235), Lithuania (234.9), Republic of Moldova (215.2), Czech Republic (208.8), Latvia (194.6), Poland (194.4) and Estonia (191.4). Not taking into account countries with less than 300,000 inhabitants, the lowest incarceration rates were found in Iceland (46.8), Finland (51.1), Netherlands (54.4), Sweden (56.5), Denmark (63.2), Slovenia (61.1) and Norway (65.4).

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Strasbourg 2 April 2020
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Facing COVID-19 pandemic

The right to protection of health is guaranteed by Article 11 of the European Social Charter which complements Articles 2 and 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights. This right applies to everyone, including those deprived of their liberty. The PC-CP Working Group issued a Statement on 17 April 2020.

As the CPT detailed in its Statement of principles relating to the treatment of persons deprived of their liberty in the context of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic: "an inadequate level of health care can lead rapidly to situations falling within the scope of the term “inhuman and degrading treatment"". The Statement draws its inspiration and further adapts to the current pandemic the standards adopted by the Council of Europe, in particular the relevant provisions of the European Prison Rules and Committee of Ministers’ Recommendations n° R(93)6 concerning prison and criminological aspects of the control of transmissible diseases including Aids and related health problems in prison, and n° R (98) 7 concerning the ethical and organisational aspects of health care in prison (see the Compendium of all relevant texts).

The European Court of Human Rights is taking a number of exceptional measures to respond to the unprecedented global health crisis including the examination of urgent requests for interim measures under Rule 39 of the Convention.

The Council of Europe, in close co-operation with a number of donors, has been implementing numerous projects that assist member States to inter alia develop a strategic approach to the provision of health care in prisons.

Council of Europe work in the field of penological co-operation

Historically speaking the Council of Europe has played a pioneering role and has a unique experience in promoting humane treatment of offenders, decent prison conditions and socially effective and rehabilitative penal sanctions and measures.

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Key Council of Europe Recommendations