WHICH EUROPEAN COUNTRY LOCKS THE MOST PEOPLE IN PRISON?Posted: January 5, 2015
One European country beats all the others when it comes to incarceration. But where does Britain rank? It depends how you look at it.
We begin our examination of Europe’s prisons by looking at the overall populations, but with a couple of important caveats. It is impossible to obtain up-to-date, consistent data for all European countries. So we found the latest and best available data from the International Centre for Prison Studies.
Obviously, the size of a country’s population affects the total prisoner numbers. Let’s start by comparing the UK with its western European peers.
England & Wales, which manage their prisons together, have the highest prison population of any western European countries.
Of course, the biggest five European countries have the most people in jail, but Germany, France and Italy have more people than England & Wales combined. This shows that England & Wales lock up a disproportionate number of people.
But what if we expand the picture to the wider continent of Europe?
As you can see, Russia’s 672,000 prisoner total distorts the chart. However, it is interesting to note that only Russia and Turkey jail more people than England & Wales and that Ukraine and Poland hold fewer people.
BUT WHAT’S THE BIGGER PICTURE?
Looking at the overall totals is interesting, but a more accurate picture can be derived from examining the prison rates: the number of prisoners per 100,000 people.
Again, let’s begin by seeing how the UK compares with other western European nations.
Once again England & Wales hold the unenviable position atop the league, but we can now see that Scotland also jails a lot of people relative to similar countries. Northern Ireland puts fewer people behind bars, but more than the Republic of Ireland.
Now what happens if we widen the picture one last time to the European continent as a whole?
Russia has by far the most prisoners in Europe when measured in prisoners per 100,000 people. It has over 672,000 prisoners or 467 per 100,000 people.
The Baltic countries also imprison a relatively high number of people while Scandinavia jails the fewest.
England, Wales and Scotland are on par with Romania while Northern Ireland is level with France, but is still more punitive than the Republic of Ireland.
Overall, the UK appears to have quite a tough sentencing regime as it has more prisoners than similar European countries. England, Wales and Scotland are roughly comparable, but Northern Ireland puts fewer people behind bars.
Russia, however, is in a league of its own – hopefully one the UK will never join.