UK prison population is biggest in western Europe
In a comparison of 50 European countries, Britain is behind only Russia and Turkey in number of prisoners
Britain has the largest prison population in western Europe at 95,248, which is nearly 20,000 higher than France and 30,000 more than Germany, according to the latest Council of Europe figures.
The annual statistics for 50 European countries show Britain is behind only Russia with its 671,027 prisoners and Turkey with 151,451.
The appetite for incarceration in Britain is underlined by the number of prisoners per 100,000 population, which stands at 149.7 for England and Wales and 147.6 for Scotland, compared with 118 for France and 81.4 for Germany.
The European comparison comes soon after the justice secretary Michael Gove’s declaration that he believed it was possible to implement his radical prison reform programme without dramatically reducing the prison population.
Gove: I can reform prisons without cutting inmate numbers
The Council of Europe said its 2014 penal figures showed that overcrowding had been slowly declining in European prisons since 2011, although it remaind a problem in a quarter of prison administrations.
The total prison population across the 50 countries stood at 1,600,324 in September 2014, putting it near the top (94%) of the capacity of European jails. This is about 70,000 more than the figure for 2013, which stood at 1,530,222.
Britain does not feature in the European top 10 of countries with the most overcrowded prisons, with that table headed by Hungary, Belgium, Macedonia, Greece, Albania, Italy and Spain.
But it does have the highest population of prisoners serving life sentences: 7,468 in England and Wales and 1,010 in Scotland, compared with 1,953 in Germany, 1,599 in Italy and 466 in France. The proportion of those prisoners is also higher in Britain at 10% compared with a European average of 3%. This reflects the much reduced use of indeterminate sentences in the rest of Europe.
There are, however, fewer foreign nationals incarcerated in Britain than in other major western European countries. There were 10,834 foreign prisoners in England and Wales, compared with 14,688 in France, 19,562 in Germany, 17,457 in Italy and 20,125 in Spain.
The average spent per prisoner per day in England and Wales of €109 (£84) is above the European average of €99 or £76.62.