Detainees in Swiss prisons at lowest level in a decade

A prison in Hinwil, canton Zurich. Keystone / Ennio Leanza

Statisticians say the fall in numbers over the past year could be linked to Covid-19-related restrictions, but that longer term trends would still need to confirm this.

This content was published on April 27, 2021 - 10:22

On January 31 this year, the number detainees in Swiss prisons was 6,316 – a drop of 8.4% compared to the same reference day in 2020, the Federal Statistical Office reported on Tuesday. It’s also the lowest number since 2011.

The prison system – 92 institutions and 7,397 places across the country – was thus 85.4% occupied, the lowest capacity level since 2003. The number of detainees per 100,000 inhabitants was 73. The global average rate, according to a 2018 UN-cited studyExternal link, is around 145 per 100,000.

Men made up 94.3% of all prisoners, while foreigners made up 70.3%. Both figures were quite stable compared to trends over the past decade.

Apart from those being held in preventive detention or for security reasons, who increased by 4.4%, all categories of detention are on the decline, the FSO noted: notably, those detained for breaking the Federal ActExternal link on Foreign Nationals and Integration fell from 267 in 2019 to 115 in 2020. This is down from a high of 428 in 2009.

The FSO also writes that the general drop in numbers is most likely not linked to changes in the prison system which have seen smaller establishments closing in recent years. Rather, these closures have been offset by consolidating in larger institutions. Although six prisons shut last year, the number of overall places available rose by 24.

As for the reasons behind the drop in prisoners, the FSO wrote that it “could, among other factors, be linked to the period of restrictions related to the coronavirus since 2020. However, we will have to wait a few years to confirm this from the point of view of long-term trends”.

Some 12 people managed to break out of Swiss prisons in 2020: of these, two turned themselves back in, eight were recaptured within a week and one within the year. One was not found.

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