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Prisons make fertile breeding grounds for viruses, yet administrations have revealed little about Covid-19 cases, deaths and vaccinations in Europe’s prisons. Data from 32 countries show the pandemic’s impact on prisons.
"The epidemic has been contained at the cost of enormous sacrifices for France’s prison population", says Dominique Simonnot, French chief prisons inspector.
Aurélie, 27, spent several years in prison. Maxime, 35, was an inmate in the Paris region, where the overcrowding rate is 160%. Like 13,000 other prisoners, he got out thanks to early-release measures enacted between March and May 2020. They told us their stories.
While the poor state of French prisons led many to fear a serious health crisis in the wake of Covid-19, the worst of those fears have not materialised. However, the drastic lockdown measures have done nothing to benefit the mental health of detainees. Nor have they led to any serious reevaluation of the system itself.
The prison population fell in almost all European countries last year. Many detainees were released to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and meanwhile the crime rate also declined. The largest drop in prison numbers was in Turkey. However, in certain countries the incarcerated population increased.
Lithuania is the EU country with the highest rate of inmates in relation to the population, but prison overcrowding is the highest in Hungary.
Set up by the WHO, the European database on health in prisons (HIPED) includes data on prison mortality, disease screening, and the prevention and treatment of diseases.
Since the turn of the century, the Old Continent stands out as the only macro-region experiencing declining numbers in its prison population. However, positive developments in Russia are key in explaining the trend. The EU benefits from the positive dynamics in Eastern and Central Europe. Recent data for Italy are worrisome.
The suicide rate in Balkan prisons is low compared to the rest of Europe, in part because of the different composition of the prison population.