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Ten-year trends in European prisons: new Council of Europe report

4 December 2018
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Ten-year trends in European prisons: new Council of Europe report

The Council of Europe today published two reports reflecting, firstly, the trends in European prisons from 2005 to 2015 and, secondly, the evolution of foreign offenders in prison and under probation from 2009 to 2015.

The report “Prisons in Europe 2005-2015” shows that from 2005 to 2015 the geographic distribution of prison population rates (number of inmates per 100,000 inhabitants) remained stable across Europe. In 2005, these rates tended to decrease from east to west with some exceptions: England and Wales, Scotland, Spain and Portugal had relatively high prison population rates, whilst Croatia, Greece, Slovenia and Turkey had low rates.

From 2005 to 2015 the countries where prison population rates increased the most were Albania (109.3 to 207.2), Georgia (200.6 to 274.6), Lithuania (233.4 to 277.7), “The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” (104.8 to 168.9), Montenegro (134.5 to 176.8) and Turkey (75.8 to 220.4). On the other hand, Germany (95.7 to 77.4) and the Netherlands (94 to 53) joined the countries with the lowest rates, and Estonia (327.4 to 210.3) and Latvia (313.4 to 223.4) significantly reduced theirs.

The report contains a fact-sheet of each penal administration with key data and tables showing the evolution of seventeen indicators as well as the relative position of the country (low medium or high for each indicator compared to the 47 Council of Europe member states, including the 28 EU member states).

According to the report “Foreign offenders in prison and probation in Europe”, during the last decade, overall, the median percentage of foreign inmates remained stable across Europe (12%). The proportion of foreigners among the prison population continued to be low in Central and Eastern Europe (below 5%), and higher in most EU and EFTA countries, where it grew.

The report points out that in 2005 not many countries had data about probation because this information was not collected or because in some countries alternative sanctions and measures to imprisonment were not yet applied. In 2015 the distribution of the probation population rates across Europe was quite heterogeneous and did not follow a clear geographical distribution. At the same time, the number of persons under probation was higher than the number of persons in prison.

The Nordic countries and the Netherlands showed both low prison and probation rates. On the contrary, the administrations of England, Wales, Poland and Turkey had both high prison and probation rates. Another set of countries had moderate to high prison population rates, such as Spain, France, Belgium, Luxembourg and Greece, and also moderate to high probation population rates.

In 2015, the percentage of foreigners placed under the supervision of probation agencies was far lower than the proportion of foreigners detained in penal institutions. According to the director of the study, Prof. Marcelo Aebi, “there is a complex relationship between prison and probation population rates. What data show is that community sanctions and measures are not necessarily being used as an alternative, but rather as an additional measure to imprisonment.”

The two comprehensive longitudinal studies have been carried out by the University of Lausanne with funding from the European Union and the Council of Europe. Their aim is to provide a reliable series of data for the main indicators related to prisons and to probation in the 47 Council of Europe member states, which can allow a better analysis of the situation in this field and help national authorities in taking informed decisions regarding penal reforms.

The studies gave the opportunity to update, systematise and homogenise the data collected over the years for the Council of Europe Annual Penal Statistics (SPACE) from the prison and probation administrations across the continent.