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UK has highest number of prisoners in European Union

The UK has the highest prison population in the European Union, according to a major new study.

There were a total of 95,629 people behind bars in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland as of September 2015, figures published by the Council of Europe show.

Of 45 administrations examined, only Russia and Turkey had more prisoners, with 642,470 and 173,522 respectively.

England and Wales had a prison population rate of 148.3 inmates per 100,000 inhabitants, which was higher than the Europe-wide average of 134.7, and above the figures for France (98.3), Germany (77.4) and Italy (86.4).

As of September 2015, there were 86,193 prisoners in England and Wales, while Northern Ireland and Scotland had 1,690 and 7,746 respectively.

The combined total was the highest out of all the EU member states for which figures were available.

England and Wales had one of the highest numbers of prisoners serving life, the analysis found, with 7,439.

Surging levels of violence and self-harm behind bars have sparked repeated calls from penal reform campaigners for the prison population to be reduced.

The number in England and Wales almost doubled between 1993 and 2016, and has remained around the mid-80,000s in recent years.

There have also been warnings about overcrowding. In December, MPs were told that around 24% of inmates are held in accommodation designed for fewer people than are in it.

Justice Secretary Liz Truss has announced a wide-ranging package of measures aimed at reforming jails and driving down re-offending rates.

The Council of Europe report found that overall, the number of people held in jails around the continent fell by 6.8% from 2014 to 2015.

In 2015, 1.4 million people were held in penal institutions across Europe, which is 102,880 inmates fewer than the previous year.

Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjorn Jagland said: "The drop in the overall number of people in prison in Europe is welcome.

"Increasing the use of alternative sentences does not necessarily lead to higher crime rates but can help to reintegrate offenders and tackle overcrowding."

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