How Europe’s prisons have fared in the Covid-19 pandemic

Prisons make fertile breeding grounds for viruses.

Prisons make fertile breeding grounds for viruses, yet administrations have revealed little about Covid-19 cases, deaths and vaccinations in Europe’s prisons. Data from 32 countries show the pandemic’s impact on prisons.
An article written by Kira Schacht — Deutsche Welle with EDJNet.

Vangelis Stathopoulos, who is in Greece’s Larissa prison, is one of more than half a million people incarcerated in Europe in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic. And, like so many others, the prison where he is being held is an ideal breeding ground for viruses: overcrowded, with cramped living arrangements and often poor hygiene conditions.

“When I got Covid last December, around half of the prisoners in here were sick at the same time,” Stathopoulos says. “We were put into a ward with 60 people, in a space of around 110 square meters (1,200 square feet). It was a roll of the dice whether you were going to be severely or just mildly ill.”

During the pandemic, we have become accustomed to meticulously updated Covid-19 dashboards and kept a close public eye on settings vulnerable to outbreaks, such as care homes. Yet little data has been made public about the spread of the coronavirus in carceral facilities. “Many prisons are overcrowded, with no possibility for physical distancing,” says Filipa Alves da Costa, a public health consultant for the World Health Organization’s Health in Prisons Programme. “So, when the virus gets carried in, it gets transmitted much more easily.”

Together with 11 newsrooms in the European Data Journalism Network, DW has collected data from 32 countries that show how many cases and deaths were reported in prisons, how vaccinations progressed and what measures were taken to curb the spread of the virus.

“If you’re not protecting prisons, you’re not protecting the community.”

“Even our letters were quarantined,” recalls Csaba Vass


“My feeling is that there is certainly a problem of underreporting,”

For the past 18 months, many prisons have been locked down far more than usual

During the pandemic, isolating prisoners has become a standard measure in many countries

Prisoners have a right to family life according to the European Court of Human Rights

One in three European countries operate their prisons above official capacity

Incarcerated populations are now rising again in about half of the European countries studieds

“When it was announced that there would be a vaccine, people became much calmer,”

Incarcerated people caught a breath of fresh air as visits and activities resumed under hygiene requirements

“We cannot face another health crisis with these numbers of people incarcerated throughout Europe,”