The highest incarceration rates in Europe in 2020 were recorded in Russia and Turkey, with 328 and 325 detainees per 100,000 inhabitants, according to a report by the Council of Europe (CoE). In absolute numbers, Russia has 478,714 people behind bars and Turkey 272,115.
While the number of incarcerated persons in Turkey went down in 2020, the rate of incarceration was almost three times the European average of 116.1 per 100,000 inhabitants, according to the report prepared by the Institute of Technology Lausanne (UNIL) School of Criminal Science for the CoE.
The decline in Turkey’s prison population from more than 297,000 inmates in 2019 has pushed Russia to the top. In a previous version of the report dated January 2020, Turkey was in the lead.
The fall in 2020 was not indicative of a broader trend. While Turkey released a significant number of prisoners, including those convicted of violent crimes, as part of its COVID-19 measures, it also more than doubled its prison population between 2011 and 2021.
“With the exception of Turkey, the vast majority of European countries experienced significant decreases in their number of inmates during the second decade of the 21st Century,” the report said.
Turkey’s prison population rate in 2021 was 89 per cent higher than in 2011, the report found. Except for Andorra and San Marino, which have incomparably small populations, Turkey was the highest rate among CoE member states. Hungary and Serbia followed with 3 per cent and 1.5 per cent, and the remaining 42 countries had negative rates.
Dr Marcelo Aebi, a professor of criminology and consultant expert for the CoE, told BBC Turkish that Turkey’s extreme spike was observed after the July 15, 2016 coup attempt in Turkey and that prison populations remained high in the country following the spike.
The Turkish government believes followers of Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen, who were previously allied with Ankara and had focused on increasing their numbers in key public institutions over several decades, are responsible for the failed coup attempt. In the two-year-long state of emergency declared after July 15, tens of thousands of suspected sympathisers were dismissed from public service, starting with the military and the judiciary.
Turkey was also among the top CoE member states for prison density, ranking sixth for the number of inmates per 100 detention places with 108.3 inmates. This ranking includes San Marino, which is often discounted from statistics due to its population of 34,000. In a total of 10 countries, including San Marino, prisons are more than 100 per cent full. The European average is 82.5 inmates per 100 detention places.
One area in which Turkey did not take the lead was the average length of imprisonment, where prisoners remained behind bars for 11.7 months in Turkey and 12.7 months on the European average. In this category, Turkey’s sister country Azerbaijan took the lead, with 34.6 months.
Turkey also more than doubled the European average for the ratio of inmates per prison staff, with 3.9 inmates per staff against the average of 1.5 inmates. Meanwhile, the country ranked sixth for the least amount spent per inmate, spending € 875 million overall, which comes to less than €9 per prisoner per day. On the European level, the spending was recorded as €26.8 billion, or €77 per prisoner per day.