Turkey leads Europe in prison population, number of inmates per capita

Turkey has surpassed all European countries in both total prison population and inmates per capita as of 2022, signaling a significant upward trend in incarceration rates over the past decade, the Turkish Minute news website reported, citing the data from Eurostat released in April.

Eurostat, compiling prison data annually in conjunction with UN global crime statistics, revealed that Turkey had 341,294 prisoners as of 2022. This figure places Turkey at the top of the list, with the second-ranking country, France, having significantly fewer inmates, at 72,173.

The 2022 data show there are 403 prisoners per 100,000 people in Turkey, more than double the rate of Hungary, which is second at 199.7 inmates per 100,000. The European Union average is significantly lower, at 108 inmates per 100,000 inhabitants.

In contrast, the countries with the lowest incarceration rates are Iceland at just 36.7 prisoners per 100,000 people, followed by Finland at 51.6. Other countries with low rates include the Netherlands and Slovenia, with rates just above 60 prisoners per 100,000.

In terms of infrastructure, the EU has an average of one prison place per 856 inhabitants, a figure that varies widely across the region. Countries in Eastern Europe and the Baltic region report higher numbers of prison places per 100,000 people compared to Western European countries.

Overcrowding remains a problem in several countries, including Turkey, Cyprus, France and Belgium, which have reported occupancy rates exceeding their official prison capacities.

In December the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) faulted Turkey for the poor prison conditions experienced by eight people who were given less than three square meters of living space in overcrowded prisons in the aftermath of a failed coup in July 2016.

The Strasbourg-based court unanimously ruled that Turkey violated Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which concerns the prohibition of torture, saying no one shall be subjected to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

In their petitions the applicants complained about the overcrowding in prisons, where many people were put in a cell far beyond its capacity, forcing some inmates to sleep on mattresses on the floor or take turns to sleep. They also complained about other conditions in prison such as cold food, inadequate hygiene, inadequate toilets for so many people and restrictions including the banning of sports and social and educational out-of-cell activities.

The data underscore a sharp increase in the number of prisoners in Turkey since 2009, when the prison population was 116,034. The increase has been particularly pronounced since 2016.

As part of a crackdown launched by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in the aftermath of the attempted coup on July 15, 2016, Turkey jailed tens of thousands of people on terrorism-related charges. Most of them were merely critical of the government and had not engaged in any criminal activity.

Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government has allocated 13.7 billion lira for the construction of 12 new prisons in 2024. There were 405 prisons in the country as of October 2023.

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