Number of prisoners declines under new law, but overcrowding persists in Turkish prisons

Turkey’s prison population dropped by 90,115 last month after changes in the law allowed some inmates to transition to open prisons and then be released, bringing the total prison population to 270,607.

Some convicts are sent to what are called “open” prisons towards the end of their sentences as the state prepares them for release. They are given permission to leave for temporary periods and must accept work.

Despite the decline, overcrowding continues to be an issue, particularly in closed prisons where the number only decreased by 17,225, or 7 percent. Open prisons experienced a much more significant reduction, from 129,716 to 56,826 inmates.

The amendments to Law no 5275 on the Execution of Sentences and Security Measures, published in the Official Gazette on July 15, allow for early transition to open prisons for a number of inmates, including those convicted of serious offenses such as murder, assault resulting in injury, sexual assault, child sexual abuse, fraud, theft, robbery, bribery and drug-related offenses.

The reduction comes as Turkey remains the leader in the number of prisoners in Europe, according to the 2022 Council of Europe Annual Penal Statistics on Prison Populations report. In January 2022 Turkey accounted for over a third of all prisoners in CoE member states and a surge of 369 percent in its prison population between 2005 and 2022.

Turkey’s government has allocated 8.7 billion lira for the construction of 36 new prisons over the next four years, a move that is expected to further increase the nation’s high incarceration rate.

The recent decline in prisoners does not address concerns regarding political prisoners, an issue that continues to draw international scrutiny.

Overcrowding, particularly in closed prisons, remains a significant concern, as closed prisons only saw a 7 percent decrease while Turkey registered 113 inmates per 100 places, among the highest overcrowding rates in Europe according to the CoE data.

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