Tougher laws will soon put the system over its capacity
Prague, Dec 5 (ČTK) — Czech prisons are overcrowded and if the state does not solve the problem, some 2,300 beds will be lacking in them in the following years, according to a prediction of the number of prisoners based on the Prison Service’s statistics that its author, economist Libor Dušek, has presented.
The tightening of sentences under the new Penal Code annually raises the number of prisoners by about 2,000 and the state budget expenditures by Kč 660 million, Dušek said on Friday.
The Justice Ministry is not planning any amendment to soften the sentence levels, Vladimír Zimmel, deputy justice minister said.
At present, 18,609 prisoners are serving their sentences in the Czech Republic, with a population of 10.5 million, and the prisons’ capacity is insufficient.
According to the statistics from September, there were 17,921 beds in Czech prisons, but the number has slightly increased since then thanks to the construction of new facilities.
“If the crime rate and the penal policy do not change, we estimate that this number will reach 20,000 by the end of 2016,” Dušek, senior lecturer at the University of Economics (VŠE) who is also teaching at the CERGE-EI Institute, said.
If repressive trends in the Czech penal police continue, the number of prisoners will be constantly rising to a total of 21,740 inmates in 2024, he warned.
The construction of new prisons or changes in the penal policy to lower the number of prisoners would solve the problem, Dušek said. However, the first alternative is not efficient from the economic view point, he added.
He pointed out that the lacking 2,300 beds would require the construction of four to five prisons, that is an investment of about Kč 430 million while their operation would annually cost other Kč 750 million.
At present, the Czech Republic has considerably more prisoners if related to its population than other Western EU countries, Dušek noted.
Another solution would be to introduce systemic changes, for instance, a more frequent use of alternative sentences, such as house arrest, property forfeiture and financial penalties, to decriminalize less dangerous forms of criminal activities and not to raise sentence levels any more.
“The rise in the already quite high sentences can accommodate the opinions of the public that has been constantly calling for a stricter punishment of crime perpetrators. But it actually brings controversial effects along with high costs,” Dušek said.
In the neighboring Germany, financial punishments make up 80 percent of imposed sentences, former justice minister Helena Válková pointed out.
Zimmel admitted that the Justice Ministry took the possibility of lowering sentences into consideration though no particular proposal had been submitted yet.
He said the ministry would use Dušek’s model, for instance, for the planning of investments in prisons. It has been applied in the new concept of the prison service, he said, adding that the ministry would not choose a simple solution to build new capacities only .
However, most European countries are building new, modern prisons. The handling of prisoners in outdated unsuitable facilities cannot be efficient, he added.
“We would like to have a modern prison, but it is not realistic now,” Prison Service head Pavel Ondrášek said.