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Round-up: Council of Europe 'SPACE I' Annual Penal Statistics in Europe for 2015

22nd March 2017

The Council of Europe have published their Report: SPACE I Annual Penal Statistics in Europe for 2015, containing a detailed breakdown of penological trends across Europe. The questionnaires used for data collection are designed to allow the maximum comparability between Member States of the Council of Europe (CoE). The participation rate in the 2015 SPACE I Survey was 87%: 45 out of the 52 Prison Administrations of the 47 Member States of the Council of Europe answered the questionnaire.

The following represent some of the key statistical data from a European perspective:

  • The median proportion of sentenced prisoners who were serving sentences shorter than one year was 13.5%, which is lower compared to 2014 (15.2%);
  • After natural causes, suicide was the most common cause of mortality in prisons, representing 25% of all deaths. One in every four suicides was committed in pre-trial detention;
  • On 1st September 2015, drug offences constituted the main offence for which serving prisoners had been sentenced. The proportion of this category of prisoner increased from 16.5% in 2014 to 18.7% in 2015. Prisoners sentenced for homicide (13.2%) and robbery (12.6%), represent the third and fourth largest categories.

The following represent some of the key statistical data from an Irish perspective:

  • Ireland had an incarceration rate of 80.4 prisoners per 100,000 inhabitants in 2015, a decline on 83.1 in 2014 and below the European average of 134.7 and European median of 115.7. However, this represents an overall increase of 5.9 in Irish figures since 2007;
  • The percentage of female prisoners within the total prison population was 3.4%, compared to a CoE average of 5.4%;
  • The percentage of under-18 females (<18) in the total female prisoner category was 0.8% (1), which compares to a CoE average of 0.7. However, there are no female ‘prisoners’ under 18 in Ireland – girls are detained only in Oberstown Children Detention Campus, which is a detention centre;
  • The percentage of under-18 males (<18) in the total male prisoner category was 1% (35), which compares to a CoE average of 0.6%. It is unclear from the figures in the report whether these only relate to children detention schools in the case of under 18 males, or also include the small number who continue to be detained in the adult prison system;
  • Life sentenced prisoners represented 10.9% of sentenced prisoners in Ireland, compared to a CoE average of 3.5%;
  • Rate of entries to penal institutions per 100,000 inhabitants was 352.2, compared to a CoE average of 204. This is the fifth highest among European countries and third highest in the EU;
  • Rate of releases from penal institutions per 100,000 inhabitants was 363.1, compared to a CoE average of 154.4. This is the highest of all countries reported;
  • The average sentence length in Ireland was 2.8 months, compared to a CoE average of 11.2 months;
  • 25% of deaths in Irish penal institutions were registered as being by suicide, which is comparable to the CoE average of 25%;
  • There were 1.5 prisoners per custodial staff in Ireland, compared to a CoE average of 3.5.

One of the most controversial findings of the SPACE I report in an Irish context is the cost of €2,773.38 to house a juvenile prisoner for one day. This was by far the highest figure across Europe and compared to €897.65 in Northern Ireland, €303.48 in England and Wales and a Europe-wide average of €283.58. However, this figure includes capital expenditure and the amount relates to 2014 when significant work was being carried out to upgrade facilities in Oberstown. The cost of providing a space per year in Oberstown children detention school campus in 2016 was approximately €340,000 (at full occupancy), which is €930 per day and in line with Northern Ireland costs.

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