Contributor(s)Civil Society in the Penal System Association (Ceza İnfaz Sisteminde Sivil Toplum Derneği, CİSST)


Türkiye has the highest incarceration rate and the largest prison population of all Council of Europe member States. Its prison population has grown significantly over the past two decades. Roughly 58,000 people were incarcerated in 2000. The country now holds more than 300,000 prisoners. This increase has led to overcrowding and a severe shortage of security, socio-educational and medical staff. The government has undertaken intensive construction plans in an attempt to modernise the prison estate: several new prisons are built each year, while older ones are closed. Many of these new facilities are high-security prisons in which prisoners are subjected to varying degrees of social and sensory deprivation.

Since the failed coup of 2016 and the subsequent declared state of emergency, a growing number of people have been sentenced under the Anti-Terror Law, originally introduced in 1991. These prisoners include outspoken critics of the government, political opponents, activists, journalists, lawyers and Kurdish advocates. More than 10% of the prison population are estimated to fall into this category. Access to prisoners and information has become increasingly difficult as the prison administration has become more opaque. Civil society organisations have raised concerns over the independence of the National Preventive Mechanism (Human Rights and Equality Institution of Türkiye), which does not have the functional or financial independence required by the Optional Protocol to the United Nations Convention against Torture (OPCAT).

Cases of torture and ill-treatment have been widely documented by monitoring bodies, civil society, media, as well as international organisations and institutions. These practices are systemic and widespread. Various psychological and physical methods are used.

Fundamental rights as defined by national law are not respected. They are often treated as privileges and arbitrarily withdrawn from prisoners who do not comply. Access to a lawyer, confidentiality and the right to appeal may be obstructed by the authorities. Arbitrary sanctions are frequently imposed and prisoners filing complaints against these may be subject to reprisals. Material and hygiene conditions are inadequate in several prisons. Reported issues include poor access to ventilation, natural lighting, temperature control, clean drinking water and quality food. Some facilities are infested with rodents and insects.

Prisoners are subject to strict weekly spending limits that do not reflect the cost of their basic needs. They have to pay for personal hygiene supplies, cleaning products, electricity (except for lighting) and extra food in case of insufficient portions at mealtimes. Indigent prisoners do not receive any financial assistance.

Access to healthcare varies considerably and remains extremely limited in many facilities. Civil society organisations report serious staff shortages, long waiting times, lack of confidentiality, poor access to treatment, as well as inadequate physical and mental health care. Some medical consultations last as little as one minute.

Access to information inside prisons is tightly controlled, with all forms of literature (books, newspapers, magazines) and broadcasting (radio, television) requiring prior authorisation. Sources of information that are critical of the government are not available. The authorities read all letters and listen to all telephone calls. These forms of communication, along with visits, can be arbitrarily restricted.

Certain groups of prisoners face particular discrimination in Turkish prisons. Women’s rights are more limited than those of men: fewer activities, no conjugal visits, inadequate access to women-specific medical care. Many LGBTQI+ prisoners suffer abuse from other prisoners and staff, and are often isolated from the general population in specific units or cells. Elderly people and those with disabilities who are unable to care for themselves often do not receive the support they need. Kurdish and Roma people are particularly discriminated against in open society, which is also reflected in the treatment they receive in prison.

Conditions of detention are most severe for those sentenced to aggravated life imprisonment. They are socially isolated, denied access to work and restricted in their access to activities and communication with the outside world. Some consider their sentence to be a form of perpetual torture.

– This country profile was produced in partnership with Civil Society in the Penal System Association (Ceza İnfaz Sisteminde Sivil Toplum Derneği, CİSST), with the support of Freedom Now and the French Development Agency.


Country population



Type of government

Presidential Republic

Human Development Index




Homicide rate (per 100,000 inhabitants)