The Unsolved Issue of ​Overcrowding in Europe's Prisons

Prison overcrowding causes serious issues, as its fosters violence and causes detainees to live in physical and psychological distress. Here it is what is happening in French and Italian prisons.

Prison overcrowding has in recent years become a serious concern for the Council of Europe, which is committed to monitoring standards and practices within European penitentiaries. Statistics show that many countries still have a very high overcrowding rate, despite having undertaken a commitment towards the improvement of prison policies.

Italy & France

The Council of Europe's concerns about overcrowding have been accompanied by those of civil society organizations and the press in both Italy and France, where the problem is has reached a critical point.

  • Italy: Although Italy showed an effort in lowering the overcrowding rate (which was as high as 147 prisoners for 100 places in 2010) and improving its treatment standards, it has still not done enough to avoid cases of poor sanitary conditions, psychological and physical pathologies, and suicides. The 14 suicides that took place in prisons since the start of 2017 are what raised the interest of the public and brought focus back to the issue of prison overcrowding, but the rate is still around 109 percent of capacity.
  • France: Concerns raised by the press address the sanitary conditions of some penitentiaries, which seem not to have the slightest interest for prisoners’ health and well-being. The overcrowding rate in France is around 114 percent: this is, clearly, an average calculation, which means that there are facilities operating at close to 200 percent capacity. Such high concentrations of detainees with poor living conditions leads to an environment of violence.

Time for politicians to get serious

The overcrowding situation in Italy and France is, unfortunately, nothing more than an example of what happens in many other European countries, which have overcrowding rates as high as these (and possibly higher).

Hopefully, governments will respect their commitments and take on the responsibility of lowering these rates and, just as importantly, respect regulations on prison capacity and sanitary standards going forward, thus guaranteeing that every detainee is granted the rights he is entitled to.