In 2015, Portugal was one of the EU countries with the greatest levels of overcrowding in prisons, but it was also among the countries with the fewest inmates being held on remand.
A new Council of Europe study published this week – the Annual Penal Statistics, or SPACE report – which portrays the situation of prisons in 40 countries, shows that in 2015, Portugal had 113 inmates per every 100 places available.
That figure is on a par with France, and only lower than in Macedonia, Hungary, Belgium, Spain, Albania and Moldova.
Based on surveys filled in by 45 of the 52 prison management systems they were sent to in the 47 EU Member States, Portugal had one of the greatest square footages per inmate, at seven square metres, exceeded by Luxemburg and Andorra, at 11 square metres, while Hungary had only 2.8 square metres per prisoner.
Regarding prisoners being held on remand, Portugal also had one of the best outcomes, showing the second lowest percentage with regard to male inmates, at 4.3 percent.
In some countries, the study found, more than half of the prison population was being held on remand and still pending trial.
In 2005, more than half of the Council of Europe member states had more than 100 inmates per every 100,000 inhabitants, although Portugal rated only slightly above the average.
Overall, the report highlighted, the number of people held in European prisons decreased by 6.8 percent from 2014 to 2015, although prison overcrowding remained a problem in 15 countries.
Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjørn 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.”
Profiling Portugal’s criminals, the report highlighted that most punished crimes related to drugs, while the vast majority of inmates are serving prison sentences of between five and ten years, with many also serving sentences of over ten years or between three and five.
However, Portugal was among the group of countries with the lowest rotation of convicts, but also had one of the highest levels of prison suicides.
National research by the General Prison Services’ Board (DGSP) published last year found that during the first half of 2016 the number of prison inmates committing suicide quadrupled in comparison to the same period of 2011.
Between 1 January and 25 June, 2012, 26 inmates died in 51 Portuguese prisons, 18 of whom died from illnesses, while eight committed suicide.