The authorities publish official statistics on prison population
every 15 days
The prison service has a computerised record keeping system
Total number of prisoners
Variation in the number of prisoners
decreased by 11.4%
between january 2020 and january 2021
Number of people serving non-custodial sentences
This number represents 71% of sentences carried out at that time.
Number of admissions
Number of releases
Average length of imprisonment (in months)
Overcrowding is an issue for specific types of prison facilities
The Portuguese association for the support of prisoners (APAR) criticised overcrowding in the Ponta Delgada prison. The claim was corroborated by the authorities, who counted 46 prisoners in one dormitory in May. Twenty-five have since been relocated. In response to overpopulation and the state of disrepair in the current prison estate, policymakers have decided to build new prisons. Construction is expected to be completed in 2027.
High-complexity establishments held 9,039 people in January 2021. The occupancy rate of these establishments is 84%. In January 2020, average-complexity establishments, held 2,195 people. The occupancy rate is 99%.
The country has been condemned by an international court for its prison overcrowding
Neither the European Court of Human Rights, nor any other international body, has ruled against Portugal on prison overcrowding or detention conditions.
Some individuals have recently complained, on the basis of Article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights (prohibition of torture), about the material conditions of their detention 1. These complaints have been addressed and the Portuguese government has paid compensation to the individuals (between 4,500 and 14,000 euros).
See, for example, Bokor vs. Portugal, Dragan vs. Portugal, Butuc vs. Portugal, Dumitru vs. Portugal and Patenaude vs. Portugal. ↩
A supervisory body has issued a decision on prison overcrowding
The NPM and the Ombudsman regularly comment on overcrowding in the establishments concerned. Prison overcrowding has been systematically addressed in NPM reports. CPT reports also address overcrowding.
Name of authority in charge of the prison service
Ministry of Justice (DGRSP)
Budget of the prison service
Percentage of the ministerial budget allocated to the prison service
The prison service outsources the management of the facilities to private companies, either partially or fully
Prison management is the responsibility of the DGRSP. The delegation of management is sometimes granted, particularly for catering and health services.
The Santa Cruz do Bispo Special Penitentiary Establishment for Women is under delegated management as part of a pilot project. The Santa Casa da Misericórdia do Porto charity is responsible for the management of health services, catering, maintenance, spiritual assistance, education, and professional training. The DGRSP retains management of the establishment, its security (prison staff), and the prison registry.
The Portuguese prison administration is placed under the responsibility of the General Directorate of Reintegration and Prison Services (DGRSP). Sentences, whether custodial or not, have been managed by a single directorate since 2012 (legislative judgment no. 63/2012).
There are three detention regimes:
The ordinary regime
The open regime
The security regime
Article 12 of the Code for the execution of sentences and custodial measures lays out the terms and characteristics of each regime.
Persons placed in ordinary regimes serve their sentences in high-security establishments or neighbourhoods. Activities and community life take place inside the penitentiary establishment. Persons placed in open regimes serve their sentences in medium security establishments or neighbourhoods. Getting closer to the outside community is encouraged. The open regime has two forms/formats:
The “open regime on the inside”. Activities take place inside the establishment (or its immediate vicinity) and are subject to direct and continuous surveillance.
The “open regime on the outside”. Activities take place outside of the establishment and do not require surveillance.
Persons placed in security regimes serve their sentences in “special” security establishments or neighbourhoods [(see ‘The real estate park’ section)]. Daily life, activities, and links with the outside world are limited. The re-evaluation of this placement takes place every six months (three months for youth under the age of 21). The decision to place, maintain or terminate it rests with the director of the DGRSP.
The DGRSP distinguishes between two types of penitentiary establishments according to the criteria of “management complexity”:
High complexity establishments
Average complexity establishments
Management complexity is defined by the level of security – special, high, or medium – the programmes implemented, the characteristics of the population, and the number of people held there (circular no. 13/2013).
The Leiria school prison houses minors and young adults. There are eight educational centres for minors aged 12 to 16 who are sentenced to educational measures [(See Minors section)].
Total number of prison facilities
Total official capacity of the prison facilities
This number does not include the places in psychiatric facilities.
Variation in the capacity of the prison facilities
decreased by 1%
13,064 spots were recorded in 2018.
The size of Portuguese prisons varies depending on the type of establishment. Average complexity prisons have up to 350 spaces. The Cadeia de Apoio da Horta (Horta support prison), administratively attached to the Angra do Heroísmo prison, is the smallest prison (17 spaces). High complexity prisons range from 169 (Súbal prison) to 887 spaces (Lisbon prison).
Prison facilities are accessible by public transport
The majority of prisons are located in town centres.
Number of prison guards (FTE)
13.8 % of positions are held by women (597 female supervisors).
Guard to prisoner ratio
Number of socio-educational workers (FTE)
The prison staff is represented by (a) union(s)
The Sindicato Nacional do Corpo da Guarda Prisional (National Union of the Prison Guard Corps) is the majority union.
Access to the prison guard profession is subject to a competitive examination and training. This comes under the authority of the Ministry of Justice Prison guard statute. The training includes theory and practice and lasts six months, interspersed. Competitive examinations are open to candidates who satisfy the following requirements:
Between the ages of 21 and 28 during the year of the exam
Height of at least 1.60 metres for females and 1.65 metres for males
The equivalent of a secondary education diploma has been obtained (usually at the end of compulsory education up to the age of 18)
No criminal record
“Good physical condition”
Up-to-date with compulsory vaccinations
The different roles of prison administration staff are as follows:
Prison guards (Corpo da Guarda Prisional - CGP), constituting the majority of personnel (63.2% in 2017)
Administrative personnel (IT, registrar, bursar…)