Overview

Incarceration rate (per 100,000 inhabitants)

111

i
01/2021

The authorities publish official statistics on prison population

every 15 days

The prison service has a computerised record keeping system

yes

Total number of prisoners

11,432

i
15/01/2021
/ DGRSP

Variation in the number of prisoners

decreased by 11.4%

between january 2020 and january 2021

  • Portugal saw the 11th largest reduction in prison population (-10.8%) between January 2020 and January 2021 of the Council of Europe countries. This reduction can be explained by the policy of early release implemented as part of the fight against COVID-19.

    i
    05/04/2022
    / Observador

Number of people serving non-custodial sentences

33,143

This number represents 71% of sentences carried out at that time.

i
2017 annual statistical report, p. 15.

Number of admissions

4,876

i
2018
/ DGRSP

Number of releases

5,449

i
2018
/ DGRSP

Average length of imprisonment (in months)

32.4

i
2018
/ Council of Europe, SPACE I – Report 2019, p. 120.
  • Portugal had the second longest average detention time in Europe: according to the Council of Europe, prisoners would spend an average of 30.2 months behind bars.

    i
    24/01/2022
    / Diário de Noticias

Variation in the average length of imprisonment

decrease

  • 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.

    i
    05/04/2022
    / Publico

Prison density

87 %

i
01/2021
/ DGRSP

Overcrowding is an issue for specific types of prison facilities

yes

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.

  • At least 63% of prisons were overpopulated. The occupancy rate of the most overcrowded prison was 160% of its operational capacity.

    i
    03/2022
    / Reshape

The country has been condemned by an international court for its prison overcrowding

no

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).


  1. 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

yes

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.

  • Twenty cases involving detention conditions in Portugal were awaiting a decision from the European Court of Human Rights. The country had already been sanctioned twice, in 2019 and 2020, for prison overpopulation, shared cells and inadequate prison structures.

    i
    24/01/2022
    / Diário de Noticias

Name of authority in charge of the prison service

Ministry of Justice (DGRSP)

Budget of the prison service

238,395,085

i
2018
/ Ministry of Justice "Justice File 2018", 2017, p. 30.

Percentage of the ministerial budget allocated to the prison service

17.2 %

i
2018
/ Ministry of Justice "Justice File 2018", 2017, p. 28.

The prison service outsources the management of the facilities to private companies, either partially or fully

yes

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

49

i
2019

Total official capacity of the prison facilities

12,923

This number does not include the places in psychiatric facilities.

i
01/2021
/ DGRSP

Variation in the capacity of the prison facilities

decreased by 1%

13,064 spots were recorded in 2018.

i

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

yes

The majority of prisons are located in town centres.

Number of prison guards (FTE)

4,336

13.8 % of positions are held by women (597 female supervisors).

i
31/12/2018
/ DGRSP

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.

    i
    07/05/2022
    / The Portugal News

Guard to prisoner ratio

1:3

i
31/12/2018

Number of socio-educational workers (FTE)

880

i
31/12/2018
/ DGRSP

The prison staff is represented by (a) union(s)

yes

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:

  • Portuguese nationals

  • 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

  • rison guards (CFICGP) were to follow a nine-month initial training 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.

    i
    17/01/2022
    / DGRSP

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…)

  • Educational personnel

  • Medical personnel

  • Management 1


  1. General Directorate of Reintegration and Prison Services, “Activity and self-assessment report 2017”, 2018 p. 393-394.