More than a third of inmates in Europe are in Turkish prisons, CoE data reveal

Turkey is by far the leader in the number of prisoners in Europe, according to the 2023 Council of Europe (CoE) Annual Penal Statistics on Prison Populations report published on Wednesday, 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 2023.

As of January 31, 2023, the total number of inmates in European jails was 1,036,680 with Turkey accounting for 348,265 of them. Following Turkey on the list were England and Wales with 81,806 inmates, France with 72,294, Poland with 71,228, and Germany with 58,098.

One of the most alarming findings in the report is the substantial growth of Turkey’s prison population rate. Between 2005 and 2023 Turkey witnessed a surge of 439 percent in its prison population, ranking second among all other European countries after San Marino. Cyprus was ranked third with a 76 percent surge, while Albania and Serbia saw increases of 63 percent and 55 percent, respectively.

When analyzing the data proportionally to the population, Turkey again stood out, topping the ranking with 408 prisoners per 100,000 inhabitants. This was one-and-a-half times more than Georgia, which had 256, followed by Azerbaijan, Moldova and Hungary.

The report also provides insight into the changing dynamics of prison populations. It reveals that between January 2022 and January 2023, the prison population in Turkey increased by over 5 percent, mirroring the average increase among European countries.

The issue of prison density is another concern addressed in the report. European countries witnessed approximately a 2 percent increase in prison density from 91.7 to 93.5 prisoners per 100 places between January 2022 and January 2023.

The countries with the most severe overcrowding are Cyprus (166 inmates per 100 places), Romania (120), France (119), Belgium (115), Hungary (112), Italy (109) and Slovenia (107). Greece (103), Sweden (102), North Macedonia (101), Croatia (101) and Turkey (100) report slight overcrowding. It should be noted that Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government committed to a four-year plan in 2022 to build 36 new prisons, which accounts for the decline in prison density compared to 2022 when it was 113.

Gender disparities were also apparent in the report, with women accounting for only 5 percent of the prison population in Europe. Cyprus (9.2 percent), Czechia (8.5 percent), Finland and Latvia (7.7 percent) were identified as countries with the highest percentage of female prisoners, with populations exceeding a million. In Turkey, women constituted 4.1 percent of the prison population.

The report further highlighted that foreign nationals make up 27 percent of the prison population in Europe.  Switzerland (71 percent), Greece (57 percent), Cyprus (55 percent) and Austria (51 percent) 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 18.5 percent, followed by homicide with 12.8 percent and theft with 11.5 percent.

Five European countries had more than 30 percent of their prisoners’ serving sentences for drug-related offenses, with Latvia topping the list at 42 percent. Azerbaijan, Iceland and Turkey followed closely behind.

It should be noted that the exclusion of the Russian Federation from the CoE 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.

The ruling AKP in 2022 allocated 8.7 billion lira for the construction of 36 new prisons in the next four years. The number of Turkish penal institutions will increase to 419 this year with the opening of 20 new prisons. There were 403 prisons in the country as of June 2024.

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