Europe puts 1.7 million behind bars

2014-04-29 21:07
A picture shows empty decorated prison cells in the Nanterre jail.  (Thomas Samson, AFP)

A picture shows empty decorated prison cells in the Nanterre jail. (Thomas Samson, AFP)

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Paris - Some 1.7 million people are behind bars in Europe, half of who are being held for theft, drugs or murder, a Council of Europe report showed on Tuesday.

The report, which looked at prisons in 47 member countries including Russia and Turkey, showed wide divergences in prison conditions across the continent. Overcrowding was a problem in nearly half the surveyed countries. Serbia emerged as the chief offender in the overcrowding stakes, with 159.3 inmates per 100 prison places in 2012, followed by Italy, Cyprus, Hungary and Belgium.

The council also noted an increase in the past 10 years in the proportion of foreigners being held, mainly in southern and western European countries. Foreign inmates made up on average 21.3% of prisoners in European prisons in 2012, rising to 27.9% in Germany and 74% in Switzerland.

The report showed the prison population to be nearly entire male, with women accounting for only 5.4% of inmates on average. Russia had the second-highest number of prisoners as a proportion of the general population, after Georgia. Russia had 717 400 prisoners or 502 per 100 000 inhabitants, while Georgia had 23 227, representing 516 per 100 000 inhabitants.

The continental average was 150 prisoners per 100 000 inhabitants. There were few surprises when it came to jailing offences, with theft topping the table, followed by drugs offences, robbery and murder. Albania had by far the highest proportion of prisoners who were serving time for murder or attempted murder.

Convicted or would-be murderers represented a whopping 48% of its prison population, compared with 5.8% in France and 6.2% in Austria. Spending on inmates contrasted widely from east to west, with countries with large prison populations in eastern Europe typically spending less per individual than their wealthier Western counterparts.

Ukraine and Bulgaria each spent just €3 a day per inmate in 2011, versus €621 in Sweden. The Council of Europe is a human rights organization based in the French city of Strasbourg. The annual SPACE report on prisons is based on questionnaires sent to its 47 member states.

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