Malta prison suicide rate highest in Europe in year of more incarcerations

Malta had the highest growth rate in incarceration between 2019 and 2020, and the highest suicide rate in prison

The overall European imprisonment rate – the number of persons in prison per 100,000 inhabitants – fell again slightly in 2020, consolidating a trend that started in 2013, according to the Council of Europe’s Annual Penal Statistics on Prison Populations for 2020

But Malta had the highest growth rate in incarceration between 2019 and 2020 (15.2% increase), followed by Cyprus (13.1%), Iceland (11.7%) and Croatia (10.3%).  

Malta also had the highest suicide rate in prisons – 25.2 per 10,000 inmates – after Iceland (61), which was however excluded from a general ranking since its population was less than 500,000.

Malta was then followed by Armenia (22.5), Denmark (21.7), Norway (19), France (17) and Estonia (16.3). Overall, the suicide rate in European prisons in 2019 was 5.2 per 10,000 inmates. Iceland, with a suicide rate of 61 per 10,000 was excluded 

Malta was also within the top five of countries with the highest proportions of foreign inmates: Luxembourg (73.9%), Switzerland (69.6%), Greece (57.8%), Austria (53.1%), Malta (51.5%), followed by Catalonia in Spain (46%), Belgium (43%), Estonia (33.3%), Italy (32.5%), Denmark (30.1%) and Norway (29.2%). 

Malta has 25.2% of its prisoners convicted for drug-related offences. The highest rates were in Latvia (44.2%), Iceland (34.6%), Italy (31.5%), Greece (29.4%), Azerbaijan (29%), Albania (27.9%), Cyprus (27.3 %), Georgia (26.2%), Estonia (25.8%), Turkey (25.8%) and Malta (25.2%). 

As of 31 January 2020, there were 1,528,343 inmates in 51 prison administrations out of 52 Council of Europe member states, which corresponds to a European prison population rate of 103.2 inmates per 100,000 inhabitants. 

In the 50 prison administrations for which data are available for both 2019 and 2020 this rate fell from 106.1 to 104.3 inmates per 100,000 inhabitants (-1.7%). 

Since 2013, when it peaked at 131 inmates per 100,000 inhabitants, this rate has fallen every year, reaching an overall decline of 20%. 

Prof. Marcelo Aebi, Head of the SPACE research team from the University of Lausanne, said this reduction partly reflects the decrease of traditional offences like theft and robbery over that period, which has not been compensated by the increase of cyber-related offences, namely cyber-frauds. Cybercrimes lead to less convictions because the perpetrators are often based outside the national territory and are difficult to trace and sanction. 

The countries with the highest incarceration rates in January 2020 were Turkey (357 inmates per 100,000 inhabitants), Russia (356), Georgia (264), Lithuania (220) Azerbaijan (209), Czech Republic (197), Poland (195), Slovak Republic (193) and Estonia (184). Not taking into account countries with less than 300,000 inhabitants, the lowest incarceration rates were found in Iceland (45), Finland (50), Netherlands (59) and Norway (59). 

Drug-related offences continued to be the reason for which prisoners had been convicted most often in the 42 prison administrations that provided this data (close to 260,000 inmates representing 17.7% of the total prison population), followed by theft (199,000 inmates, 13%) and homicide – including attempts -(169,000, 12%). Four of every 10 inmates had been convicted for offences involving violence (homicide, assault and battery, rape and other sexual offences, and robbery).