Report slams Portugal’s prisons

Overcrowding and poor sanitation in Portugal’s prisons, plus a lack of alternatives to custodial sentences, are just some of the problems highlighted in a report by the Justice Ministry.

The report, presented to parliament by Justice Minister Celeste Cardona, claims that the huge number of prisoners held in Portugal’s 55 prisons is a pressing problem. Portugal has 35 per cent more of its citizens in prison than the EU average. Altogether, 13,772 men and women are in custody, 30.6 per cent of them on remand.

There is a common perception that these remand prisoners are the cause of the overcrowding and subsequent hygiene and psychological problems. However, experts claim that it is Portugal’s lack of alternatives to custodial terms that is the real root of the problem. The report calls for a community service programme to be activated, as well as for six new prisons to be built and 20 to be refurbished.

Celeste Cardona has admitted that the deficiencies are the result of “decades of indifference” and will take 15 years to solve. His current priority is to convert one of the country’s existing prisons into a high security jail — a facility that Portugal currently lacks.

Meanwhile, the government has expressed its concern over the report, which also points out that AIDS infection rates in prisons are the highest in Europe and that 40 per cent of prisoners are serving sentences for drug related crimes. The report claims that this is a sign that the problems of drug abuse and trafficking are not being effectively tackled.