Seize the opportunity of the covid-19 pandemic to rethink prison policy in Europe. The health crisis could serve as a lever to continue reducing the number of prisoners. According to Council of Europe annual report released Thursday the incarceration rate fell slightly last year.
Drug offenses, theft and homicide have been on the decline since 2013. But prison overcrowding remains a problem in several member states. Professor of criminology at the University of Lausanne and one of the authors of the text, Marcelo Aebi underlines that the situations are very different in Europe. “Northern countries, for example, apply shorter sentences while Mediterranean countries apply very long sentences.“, he explains.
The management of the establishments also varies a lot. Some states have very specific regulations. In Italy “it takes 9 m2 per person and if you add a second bed, it takes 5 m2 more. There are of course two ways to solve this. Either reduce the length of sentences or build more prisons“, adds Marcelo Aebi. The health crisis accentuates the difficulties for prisoners. Family visits are suspended as well as activities.
But the pandemic has also meant early release for others. 22 governments chose this option during the 1st confinement as a preventive measure to fight against the contamination of covid-19 in prison. 143,000 people have thus regained their freedom. In Cyprus, France and Portugal, this represents between 17% and 23% of the prison population. But for Marcelo Aebi it is also a challenge for the authorities “because we must help them to reintegrate into society“.
Cybercrime, on the other hand, has been on the rise for several years. But it is difficult to prosecute the perpetrators of these crimes and this phenomenon has not yet had an impact on the rate of imprisonment.