by Bruno AUBUSSON DE CAVARLAY – march 2007
Marcelo F. AEBI, professor of Criminology at the University of Lausanne, Bruno AUBUSSON DE CAVARLAY, researcher at the CESDIP, and Natalia STADNIC, researcher in Criminology at the University of Lausanne, analyze the results of the 2005 SPACE I statistical survey of prison populations, conducted under the auspices of the Council of Europe.
Of all the sources providing data on penal matters, prison statistics stand first for their regular use in European comparisons. The prison population rate (see definitions) is usually considered as less sensitive to specific legal and institutional features than other indicators. This rate is calculated annually through a survey conducted under the auspices of the Council of Europe, and produces a relatively stable classification of countries over the years. The Scandinavian countries have the lowest rates, ranging from 40 per 100,000 inhabitants for Iceland to 78 for Sweden.
The highest rates are found in the former Soviet Union countries, with up to 577 for the Federation of Russia. Eastern European countries formerly under Soviet domination have high rates as well. Western European countries are somewhere in between, on the whole, but with some significant differences : Belgium has a prison population rate of 90 per 100,000 whereas the Netherlands are at 134 and England and Wales at 143 per 100,000. This brief summary of findings that may be further accentuated by mapping should not conceal the fact that some countries outside Scandinavia have also relatively low rates, such as Switzerland (82), Slovenia (57) and even Greece (87).