Turkey is by far the leader in the number of prisoners in Europe, according to the 2022 Council of Europe (CoE) Annual Penal Statistics on Prison Populations report published on Monday, accounting for more than a third of all prisoners in CoE member states.
The report, better known as SPACE I, is based on data from January 2022.
According to the report, the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions has contributed to a resurgence in prison populations across Europe.
As of January 31, 2022 the total number of inmates in European jails was 981,575, with Turkey accounting for 330,945 of them. Following Turkey on the list were England and Wales with 79,092 inmates, Poland with 71,874, France with 69,964, Germany with 56,294 and Italy with 54,372.
One of the most alarming findings in the report is the substantial growth of Turkey’s prison population rate. Between 2005 and 2022, Turkey witnessed a surge of 369 percent in its prison population, surpassing all other European countries in terms of the rate of increase. Albania followed with a 61 percent surge, while Serbia and Greece experienced increases of 49 percent and 35 percent, respectively. Conversely, Estonia, Latvia and the Netherlands saw significant decreases in their prison populations during the same period.
When analyzing the data proportionally to the population, Turkey again stood out, topping the ranking with 355 prisoners per 100,000 inhabitants. Georgia, Azerbaijan, Hungary, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Albania, Czech Republic and Latvia closely followed Turkey in this regard.
The report also provides insight into the changing dynamics of prison populations across Europe. It reveals that between January 2021 and January 2022, the median prison population increased by 2.3 percent in European countries with a population exceeding 1 million. Notable increases were observed in Slovenia (23 percent), Finland (15 percent), France (15 percent), Northern Ireland (13 percent), Montenegro (12 percent), Croatia (10 percent), Turkey (9.2 percent) and Sweden (8.2 percent). Conversely, Bulgaria, Estonia and Germany experienced decreases in their prison populations during this period.
The issue of prison density is another concern addressed in the report. European countries witnessed a 4.8 percent increase in prison density from 87.4 to 91.6 prisoners per 100 places between January 2021 and January 2022.
The countries with the most severe overcrowding are Romania (124 inmates per 100 places), Cyprus (118), France (115), Belgium (115), Turkey (113), Greece (108), and Italy (107). Croatia (103) and Slovenia (102) report slight overcrowding. Austria, Sweden, and Hungary are operating at full capacity with 100, 99.7, and 99.5 inmates per 100 available places, respectively.
Gender disparities were also apparent in the report, with women accounting for only 5 percent of the prison population in Europe. Monaco, Andorra, Cyprus, Malta, Latvia, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia were identified as countries with the highest percentage of female prisoners. In Turkey, women constituted 3.9 percent of the prison population.
The report further highlighted that foreign nationals make up 16 percent of the prison population in Europe. Switzerland, Greece, Cyprus, Austria, Belgium, Estonia, Italy, Spain, Germany and France had the highest proportions of foreign prisoners among countries with populations exceeding 1 million.
The data provided valuable insights into the offenses for which individuals were incarcerated in European penal institutions. Drug-related offenses accounted for the highest proportion at 19 percent, followed by theft (15 percent), murder or attempted murder (14 percent), robbery (10.8 percent), assault and battery (10.3 percent), non-rape sexual offenses (6 percent), rape (5 percent), traffic offenses (4.6 percent) and economic and financial crimes (3.9 percent).
Ten European countries had more than 25 percent of their prisoners serving sentences for drug-related offenses, with Belgium topping the list at 51 percent. Latvia, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Italy, Malta, Albania, Denmark, Iceland and Serbia followed closely behind.
It should be noted that the exclusion of the Russian Federation from the Council of Europe has affected the data collection and trend analyses of the report since March 2022. To maintain consistency, Russia was excluded from the longitudinal analyses presented in the SPACE I report.
Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government has allocated 8.7 billion lira for the construction of 36 new prisons in the next four years, which will significantly increase Turkey’s already high incarceration rate. The number of Turkish penal institutions will increase to 419 this year with the opening of 20 new prisons. There were 399 prisons in the country as of January 2023.