The Council of Europe have published their Annual Penal Statistics (Space I Report) for 2013, which contains a detailed breakdown of a myriad of penological trends in Europe, many of which highlight ongoing problems in prisoner care and institutional management across all 49 European Member States.
The Council's report has drawn particular attention to the drastic effect of the economic crisis on the standard of prison care across recession-hit Europe. Public expenditure on prisons has decreased substantially in the years subsequent to the economic crisis, and the Council of Europe's report indicates that this decrease in expenditure has likely caused a negative impact on the quality of life of those in custody.
Despite a slight decrease in the number held in European penal institutions between 2012 and 2013, the average prison population rate increased by 2.7% between 2007 and 2012, further corroborating the Council's assertion of a link between the downturn in the European-wide economy and rising prison populations across the totality of the Member States surveyed.
Of particular note to the IPRT was the Council of Europe's pronouncement at page 11 of the Executive Summary to the Space I Report:
"...Turkey, Armenia, Italy, Lithuania, “The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”, Iceland, Greece, Hungary, Portugal, Slovak Republic, Belgium, and Ireland increased their prison population rates by more than 20%. On the other hand, Georgia, Russia, Netherlands, Moldova, Sweden, Finland, and Czech Republic reduced them by more than 15%. Undoubtedly, the countries that were the most affected by the negative consequences of the European financial crisis have not succeeded in reducing or at least stabilising their prison population rates..."
Recent trends in prison statistics suggest that numbers in Irish prisons are lower than they were in 2012, however, several issues remain in this respect; including the spike in the number of female committals to prison as well as the unresolved problem of custodial sentences for the non-payment of fines. The government has recently introduced legislation in the area which it is hoped will bring to an end the practice of imprisoning people for defaulting on fine repayments.
The following highlight some of the key statistical data from a European perspective:
- The Space I Report indicates that the prison population of Europe at the end of 2013 stood at 1.67 million, with less than a third serving short sentences of between 1-3 years;
- The problem of overcrowding remains an acute issue in 21 of the 49 Member States surveyed, with a slight decrease in the number of prison administrations suffering from overcrowding on similar figures for 2012;
- Drug offenders have become the largest category of sentenced inmates in European prisons, which represents an upward trend across all nations surveyed.
The following highlight some of the key statistical data from an Irish perspective:
- Ireland imprisoned approximately 3,135 prisoners by the year end of 2006, before the crisis hit, but by 2013, this had risen to 4,352 - it has since fallen to 3,720, as of February 2015;
- In Ireland, each prisoner costs the State, on average €179 per day, which is slightly higher than the European average of €97, but significantly lower than Sweden's daily spend of €317;
- The indication of a slight decrease in overcrowding year-on-year in European and most Irish prisons obscures the ongoing reality of significant crowding persisting in some Irish institutions, including Cork and both female prisons in Mountjoy and Limerick.
You can read the full text of the Council's report here.
- The Irish Examiner: 'Jailings for unpaid fines up in recession' (14th Feb 2015)
- The Irish Independent: 'Women's prisons over capacity as inmates committed for minor offences' (21st Nov 2013)
- TheJournal.ie: 'Over 8,000 people were imprisoned for non-payment of fines last year' (11th April 2014)
- Council of Europe: Annual Penal Statistics - Space I Report 2013 (11th Feb 2015)
- Council of Europe: Annual Penal Statistics - Space I 2013 - Executive Summary (11th Feb 2015)