The imprisonment rate in Portugal is decreasing, according to a report published by the International Centre for Prison Studies at King’s College, London. There are now 13,254 people incarcerated across the country – a drop of 246 compared to 2001 - the last time the census was taken. The figure includes 207 prisoners who are being held in psychiatric institutions. Under-18s make up 2.1 per cent of the total prison population.
Compared to many other European Union member states Portugal’s number of prisoners per capita of population is quite favourable. A league table compiled by King’s College shows for every 100,000 citizens in Portugal 125 are serving time. Across the border in Spain the picture changes somewhat with 140 out of 100,000 people in prison.
Foreign prisoners make up 12 per cent of Portugal’s inmates with 1,590 currently serving sentences. The report points out that Portugal’s prison capacity is now overloaded with 13,254 prisoners occupying space originally designed for 12,321.The highest number of prisoners held in Portuguese jails peaked in 1998 when it stood at 14,598.
But head and shoulders above every other major country in western Europe is Britain. In England and Wales alone there are 142 out of 100,000 citizens in jail – far higher than France (91), Germany (96) and Italy (98). Northern Ireland has just 72 but the rate in Scotland jumps to 132. However, in the EU as a whole, the recent accession countries of eastern Europe have some of the highest rates in the world, with Latvia and Estonia both jailing nearly 340 people for every 100,000.
The report shows that across the world, about nine million people are in jail in 211 countries. Nearly 50 per cent of these detainees are presently held in the prisons of just three countries – the United States (2.09 million), China (1.55 million) and Russia (760,000).
America tops the table for the highest rate of imprisonment with 714 per 100,000 people in gaol followed by Belarus, Bermuda and Russia (all at 532). South Africa with 413 is high up the league table. Prison populations have risen in three quarters of the world’s countries, with the highest increases registered in Brazil, Japan and Mexico. In Europe, the fastest-growing prison population is in Holland, which presently has 19,999 prisoners. Although Russia remains one of the biggest prison users in the world, the number behind bars has fallen sharply from more than one million to 763,000 at the beginning of this year.
Rob Allen, director of the King’s College Centre, said at a London press conference last Tuesday: “Excessive use of imprisonment does nothing to improve public safety”. Comments that are at odds with Charles Murray, an American academic and social commentator. Writing in a report published by the think-tank Civitas, Murray says:
“The decline in the rate of imprisonment relative to crime has been one of the biggest causes of rising crime over the past 50 years”.
European countries offering a relatively crime-free environment in which to live are Monaco with only 13 people in prison, San Marino with zero, Gibraltar (19), Liechtenstein (18) and Guernsey (107).