U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

NCJRS Virtual Library

The Virtual Library houses over 235,000 criminal justice resources, including all known OJP works.
Click here to search the NCJRS Virtual Library

Trends in European Prison Populations

NCJ Number
Corrections Compendium Volume: 23 Issue: 7 Dated: July 1998 Pages: 17-18
Gary Hill
Date Published
2 pages
Research conducted by Roy Walmsley of the Research and Statistics Directorate in London, England, has focused on changes in prison populations in Europe in the late 1980's and the 1990's and suggests that longer prison sentences are often a factor in increasing prison population levels.
Prison populations in Western Europe increased between 1990 and 1996 in 12 countries, stayed almost the same in 7 countries, and declined in 1 country. Prison populations in Central and Eastern European countries rose between 1990 and 1997 in 11 countries, remained almost the same in 3 countries, and fell in 2 countries. Reasons for the large increase in most Central and Eastern European countries may result from the granting of amnesty to large groups of people on January 1, 1990 and from political and social changes that led to increases in crime. Findings suggested that increasing crime rates may create national anxiety, which then results in greater use of pretrial detention and prison sentences and a reluctance to allow early release. The anxiety and its consequences may continue after the original cause no longer applies. Increasing prison populations also result partly from longer prison sentences. However, amnesties are no more than a short-term solution. Furthermore, legislative changes or other unique circumstances often affect a country's inmate population. Finally, features of countries where prison populations are stable or falling include a lower degree of national anxiety about crime and offenders, an absence of media and other pressure for punitive policies, and criminal justice personnel attitudes conducive to low prison populations.