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)
Variation in the average length of imprisonment
On 4 April 2022, the 2021 annual prison statistics of the Council of Europe were published. They showed that in Portugal, as in almost all the 49 countries analysed, the prison population had been decreasing. In 2020, the average length of a prison sentence in Portugal was 31 months, making Portugal one of the top three countries in this regard, behind Azerbaijan (35 months). The average sentence length in the Council of Europe countries was then 8.9 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 2021. 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.
The country has been condemned by an international court for its prison overcrowding
The European Court of Human Rights condemned the country, in 2020, because of the conditions of detention observed in the prison of Porto. The Badulescu judgment specifies the reasons for the condemnation: “prison overcrowding, lack of hygiene and heating as well as the insalubrity of the premises “. The complainant, imprisoned in Porto, had less than three square metres of personal space. He was allegedly “subjected to an ordeal of an intensity that exceeds the inevitable level of suffering inherent in detention “ in view of the length of time he was incarcerated. In the past years, some individuals have 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.
The gradual closing of the Lisbon prison facility is part of a programme to redevelop and modernise prison resources and infrastructures, authorities state. Its closing will be offset by the creation of an equivalent number of job posts in other facilities and the redevelopment and reconstruction of vacant or underutilised districts. In the first stage, nine existing and underutilised prison districts will be renovated in the prisons of Alcoentre, Linhó and Sintra. In the next stage, an existing district at the Tires prison, which is currently vacant, will be repurposed to increase the prison’s capacity. Lastly, a new district will be constructed at the prison in Tires. These actions will help increase prison capacity and overall living accommodations.
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).
Variation in the number of prison guard positions
Rómulo Mateus, the director general of the Prison Services, warned that the number of prison guards was expected to decline by 2027. Indeed, according to Mateus, a third of prison guards could retire in the following five years. He therefore called for annual campaigns to replace lost staff.
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.
During the second day of the all-out strike by heads of correctional operations, Monday 24 November, action was taken by all of the staff of the prison facilities of Guimarães, Elvas and Sintra. Essential services could therefore not be provided. The ASCCGP conceded that security was impacted in the affected facilities.
The trade union association for commanding officers of prison officers (Associação Sindical de Chefias do Corpo da Guarda Prisional, ASCCGP) called on heads of correctional operations to participate in an all-out strike. The ASCCGP stated that the strike aims to create a new professional standing, regulate performance assessments for the corps of prison surveillance officers, open up the competitive exams to all categories, obtain danger money, and resolve structural problems within the prison system. During the first day of the strike, Friday 21 November, participants in the movement accounted for over 90% of the personnel from 12 prison facilities, including the prisons of Sintra, Elvas, Santa Cruz do Bispo (women’s prison), Lamego, Ourém, Vale de Judeus, Silves and Alcoentre. The president of the ASCCGP noted that essential services were still being provided, by two guards in each of the larger prisons and one guard in the smaller prisons.
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
Initial training for prison guards (CFICGP) is a nine-month programme. The first four months comprised theoretical courses on communication, social science, law, security, IT and health. The remaining five months would be dedicated to practical training. Trainees would begin by observing, before moving on to carrying out real tasks within the prison after acquiring the necessary experience. This training would be overseen by specialists and take place in seven different prisons. As of January 2022, 71 people had completed the training programme and 65 people were in training.
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…)