Malta is one of two countries with the highest increases in the incarceration rate among nearly 50 European countries between 2019 and 2020, a Council of Europe report shows.

The 47-nation annual penal statistics report for 2020 showed the rate increased by 15.2% during the period in question.

The incarceration rate is taken on a population basis. With 793 prisoners in 2020, Malta’s stood at 154.1 per 100,000 of the population, well above the 116.7 average for the rest of Europe.

The figure for Malta was 149 in 2012, falling to 137 in 2013 and dropping again in the following years to 107 in 2019. But it shot up to 154 a year later, an increase of 15% in just one year. Only Liechtenstein had a similar rate.

The incarceration rate in Cyprus grew by 13% while that in Iceland was up by 11.7% in the same time span.

The overall European imprisonment rate fell slightly in 2020, consolidating a trend that started in 2013.

As of January 31 last year, there were just over 1.5 million inmates spread over the prisons of the Council of Europe’s member states.

The prisons with the least number of prisoners were in Monaco and Liechtenstein which had 13 and 14 prisoners respectively.

The report, commonly known as SPACE I, focuses on prison populations and the penal institutions in which they are held. Malta ranked fifth in terms of prisons with the highest proportion of foreign inmates. Malta’s rate stood at 51.55. Luxembourg topped this list with a rate of nearly 74% of foreign detainees, followed by Switzerland (69.6%), Greece (57.7%) and Austria with 53.1%.

Malta had 408 foreign inmates against the 385 Maltese nationals – 74 of the foreigners were citizens of other EU member states.

The report found that 10 prisons of countries with more than 300,000 inhabitants had more than a quarter of all inmates serving time for drug-related offences. Malta’s proportion stood at just over a quarter, with Latvia topping the list at 44 per cent of convicts in jail over drug-related offences.

Drug-related offences continued to be the reason for which prisoners were convicted most often in the 42 prisons that provided data, totalling close to 260,000 inmates, or 17.7% of the total prison population.

This was followed by theft (199,000 inmates, 13%) and homicide, including attempts (169,000, 12%).

Four of every 10 inmates were serving time for offences involving violence that includes homicide, assault, rape and other sexual offences and robbery. The average age of prisoners in Malta is 36, while 102 are aged 50 or over and 27 aged over 65. Malta’s prison population of 793 included 60 females. There were also seven minors.

Malta had 12 prisoners who are serving life imprisonment while the bulk of inmates – 384 – are in for less than a year. Thirty inmates were serving 20 years or more.

Malta declared that six inmates died while in custody in 2019, including two involving people who were not even serving their final sentence.

The prison had a capacity of 878 prisoners in 471 holding cells, with an average of 1.7 inmates per cell. Turkey’s prisons were the worst off for density with an average of 11 inmates stuffed into each cell.

Malta declared it had 332 staff employed with prison institutions, an average of 2.4 inmates per staff member.

Every inmate in Malta’s prison costs €66.50 every day, which was less than half the average of €133 per day per inmate in Europe.

Europe’s most expensive prison was San Marino with a spend of over €1,000 per prisoner per day, followed by Liechtenstein, which spent €352 per prisoner. The cheapest was Bulgaria, spending €5.70 per prisoner per day.

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