The number of people held in Armenia’s prisons has risen by 38 percent over the past decade, bucking trends in most European countries, the Council of Europe said in a report released on Tuesday.
According to the Strasbourg-based organization’s latest Annual Penal Statistics (SPACE), almost 3,900 persons served prison sentences or were under pre-trial arrest in Armenia as of September 2015, up from less than 3,000 in 2005.
The figure translates into a prison population rate of almost 130 per 100,000 people, which is significantly higher than in countries like France, Germany or the Netherlands. But the Council o of Europe reported much higher incarceration rates in neighboring Azerbaijan (249) and Georgia (275) as well as Russia (439).
“The number of people held in European prisons decreased by 6.8 percent from 2014 to 2015,” reads the extensive report covering all Council of Europe member states.
An Armenian defense lawyer, Ara Gharagyozian, said the relatively large size of Armenia’s prison population reflects, in part, the fact that law-enforcement authorities there usually seek to keep criminal suspects in pre-trial detention.
Armenian courts rarely agree to release them on bail, something which has long been criticized by human rights groups. The latter also regularly highlight harsh conditions in Armenian prisons and detention sites.
According to the report, 38 inmates died in Armenian prisons in 2014. Ruben Sargsian, a member of an Armenian civil society team monitoring prison conditions, said such deaths primarily result from what he called a lack of adequate and quick medical aid.
“It’s no secret that there is a lack of skilled medical personnel in our penitentiary institutions,” Sargsian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). The quality of food provided to prisoners also leaves much to be desired, he said.
“They don’t get adequate nutrition there,” agreed Gharagyozian. This is why, he said, many inmates receive food parcels from their relatives on a regular basis.