Europe’s jails

Council of Europe data provides useful comparisons that suggest where reforms might be pursued in the Irish context

 

Ireland spends two thirds more per prisoner every day keeping them in our jails than our neighbours in Britain do. Annual data from 45 states of the Council of Europe for 2014 shows an Irish daily spend of €189 per inmate, compared to an average of €101 throughout Europe – the 45 spend a total €26 billion a year on prisons – and a daily range of spending from a measly €5.66 per head in Georgia to a generous €480 in San Marino (Norway, perhaps more directly comparable to Ireland, spends €340 a day).

A cell in the older-style Erne House in Maghaberry Prison. Photograph: Alan Betson
File photograph: Alan Betson
Ireland’s rate of incarceration is 80 per 100,000, compared to 91 in Northern Ireland, and 148 in England and Wales

The appetite for imprisonment is falling, it appears, with overall number of those held in prisons across the 45 dropping by 6.8 per cent to 1.4 million in 2015. The highest incarceration rate in Europe is in the Russian Federation with 439 per 100,000 population, followed by Lithuania (277), Georgia (274), Azerbaijan (249), Latvia (223), and Turkey (220). Ireland’s rate of incarceration is 80 per 100,000, compared to 91 in Northern Ireland, and 148 in England and Wales. The lowest rates are in the Netherlands (53) and Finland (54.8).

The average age of prisoners in Ireland in September 2015 was 34; among EU countries, only France had a lower average age (33.8).

A relatively high proportion of prisoners serving sentences in Ireland had been convicted of assault and battery (13.8 per cent), rape (5.1 per cent) and other sexual offences (6.2 per cent). This compares to Europe-wide averages of 9.3, 3.9 and 3.7 per cent respectively.

Eleven per cent of convicted inmates here were serving life imprisonment; this compares to Europe-wide average and median figures of 3.5 per cent and 1.8 per cent respectively.

Ireland ranks above average with a one per cent juveniles-to-adult ratio in detention – in our case in special institutions. The Europe-wide ratio ranges from zero in seven states, to 1.6 per cent in Republika Srpska. Unfortunately the report’s comparative data on spending on juveniles is largely meaningless because of the inclusion of capital spending in the Irish figures.

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