In 1976, Portugal abolished the death penalty. In the same year, the ban on torture was written into the Constitution. On 18 September 2017, Portugal took part in the launch of a global alliance for torture-free trade. In spite of this constructive political stance, and although the number of prisoners in Portugal fell steeply in 2008 (there were 10,807 prisoners in 2008 compared to 13,918 in 2002), the national incarceration rate has been on the rise since 2010, with a 15% increase over the last eight years.

Adult prisoners make up the majority of the increase in the prison population. Portugal has developed its penal policy to prioritise educational interventions for juvenile offenders. Young people aged 16 or over can be incarcerated. Where possible, such offenders are placed in one of Portugal’s eight educational centres. Should the Portuguese justice system anticipate any adjustments to a sentence – and many such adjustments may be made after the sentence is initially determined – the average duration of a prison sentence (31 months) would seem to suggest that short sentences are rarely granted. Though prison overpopulation is not yet a major issue in Portugal, it is nonetheless a cause for concern in certain of its penal institutions.

A legislative reform took effect in 2012. It was designed to harmonise existing structures within a single department (the Directorate General of Reintegration and Penal Services). The reform was applied at a national level and sought to standardise penal policies within a complex prison system. Portugal has two different types of penal institution for adults, distinguished by criteria that determine the “complexity of management [of the prisoners]”.

The information presented here describes the Portuguese penal system and provides an overview of the legal and permanent framework. Prison Insider seeks to complete this document throughout 2019 by way of a collaborative project. It is our wish that the document should continually be developed and updated, balancing the rules of the law and their real-life application. To this end we ask for support from all concerned.


  • António Dores – Research Centre for Sociological Studies / Lisbon University Institute (CIES/ISCTE-IUL)
  • Carlos Pinto de Abreu & Diana Silva Pereira (Carlos Pinto de Abreu and Associates)
  • João Costa (National Prevention Mechanism Portugal (MNP Portugal))
  • Manuela Ivone Cunha (University of Minho)
  • Thais Rivera Barreto / Prison Insider.

Country population



Type of government

Parliamentary republic

Human Development Index




Homicide rate (per 100,000 inhabitants)