Czech prisons filled up to overcapacity after respite

Photo: Filip Jandourek

Five years ago to the day, a wide-ranging amnesty declared by then president Václav Klaus came into effect, freeing more than 6,000 of the Czech Republic’s prisoners from jail. The move helped to ease the overcrowding in Czech prisons, but only temporarily. Today, prison capacity is filled up 106 percent.

Photo: Filip Jandourek
In his final New Year’s address on the January 1st, 2013, the outgoing president Václav Klaus announced a wide-ranging amnesty, applying to more than 111,000 people sentenced as well as suspects facing prosecution.

The amnesty, which came into effect the following day, released around a third of the country’s then prison population of around 23,000.

The presidential pardon also halted the prosecution of several hundred cases running for more than eight years, including some high-profile cases of alleged corruption dating back to the 1990s, causing a widespread controversy.

President Klaus said the amnesty was intended to mark 20 years of the Czech Republic’s independence, but refused to specify who exactly wrote it. That led to broad speculation about the move having been tailored to benefit some of those prosecuted for corruption and fraud. While the presidential pardon temporarily eased prison overcrowding, the situation didn’t last for long. Of the 6,500 people released, about 2000 people soon returned behind bars and prisons which had been previously closed had to be reopened again.

Petr Dohnal is the head of the Czech Republic’s prison service:

“Today, we are dealing with prison overcrowding again. There are about 22,000 people in Czech prisons and the capacity is filled to 106 percent.

“The overcrowding affects mainly high-security prisons. In some cases, there are up to 15 inmates in one cell, which of course makes the situation very complicated.”

While the head of the prison service doesn’t expect the number of prisoners to increase in the future, their numbers are also unlikely to diminish.

Petr Dohnal,  photo: archive of Prison service
In reaction to the rising numbers of prisoners, the government has repeatedly approved increases in prison staff, whose numbers currently come to around 7,500.

At present, many prison facilities are being extended to offer more capacity, and a new prison in South Bohemia is to be built within the next four years.

According to the head of prison service Petr Dohnal, the situation could also improve with more alternative sentences handed out in courts:

“I think courts have already started handing more alternative sentences. The prison Service would definitely welcome if the number of alternative punishments and house arrests increased.

„Also, the inmates would not be cut off from their families and wouldn’t lose their jobs, which is often the case if they end up in prison.”