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Last Updated: Monday, 16 February, 2004, 21:58 GMT
Portuguese prisons 'worst in EU'
By Alison Roberts
BBC, Lisbon

Portugal's prison system has been criticised as the worst in the European Union.

A justice ministry report cites overcrowding, poor sanitary conditions and a lack of alternatives to custodial sentences as among the main problems.

Caxias prison near Lisbon
The report calls for six new prisons and the replacement of 20
Justice Minister Celeste Cardona said the picture outlined in the report was the result of decades of indifference.

The report, produced over several months by a committee chaired by a respected former politician, identifies Portugal's huge number of prisoners - some 35% more than the EU average as a proportion of population - as one of a range of pressing problems.

Inadequate facilities are another. Portugal's 55 prisons are 18% over capacity and some are in dire condition.

The proportion of prisoners who are being held on remand while awaiting charges or trial, often cited as a reason why there are so many prisoners, is in fact not far from the EU average.

Overhaul pledged

The root of the problem, the report finds, is the lack of alternatives to custodial sentencing.

55 prisons
13,772 prisoners
30.6% on remand
40% drug-related
116 prisoners per 100,000 people
Some 40% of inmates are in prison for drug-related offences which experts say shows a failure to tackle the causes of drug taking and trafficking.

Aids infection rates are the highest in the EU. Even before the report was officially released, Portugal's centre-right government pledged an overhaul of the system.

While the report recommends that community service programmes that exist only on paper be made effective, it also called for six new prisons and the replacement of 20.

That would take 15 years and for now the justice ministry's priority is to convert one jail into a high security prison which Portugal lacks at present.

Country profile: Portugal
21 Jan 04  |  Country profiles

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