Czech prisons overcrowded with repeat offenders of petty crime

Photo: Filip Jandourek, ČRo

Czech prisons are crowded with people serving multiple sentences. According to a new survey carried out by Charles University’s Faculty of Law, nearly fifty percent of prisoners in the Czech Republic are currently serving at least two sentences. The study also points out that many Czechs spend years behind bars for repeated petty criminal offences.

Photo: Filip Jandourek,  Czech Radio
The survey carried out by Charles University’s Faculty of Law is based on prison service data for 2018. It shows that 47 percent of Czech prisoners serve at least two sentences consecutively. In many cases, the total length of the accumulated sentences exceeds the most severe sentence imposed.

Jakub Drápal from Prague’s Faculty of Law is the author of the study:

“The Czech Criminal Code doesn’t anticipate in any way that the judge could take into account previously imposed conditional sentences that have not been served. Although we know that in reality, some judges tend to do so, while others don’t.”

The theft of goods under 5,000 crowns is commonly considered a misdemeanour in the Czech Republic. However, the rule doesn’t apply to repeat offenders, who have been convicted of theft in the course of the past three years.

As a result, people who commit petty crime, usually theft, can end up behind bars for years. In addition to their most recent sentence, their term in prison is extended by the previously imposed, conditional sentences.

Jakub Drápal again:

“We came across the case of a man, who stole half a kilo of chicken breasts, and then he went on stealing more goods in supermarkets.

“For the overall damage amounting to 6,500 crowns he was sentenced to over three years in prison. This seems inadequate and disproportionate to me.”

According to Mr. Drápal, the accumulation of prison sentences is one of the reasons why the Czech Republic has one of the highest number of prisoners in Europe as well as one of the highest prison sentences. At the moment, the country’s overcrowded prisons are accommodating some 21,200 people.

Photo: Filip Jandourek / Czech Radio
According to the chairman of the Prague Municipal Court, Libor Vávra, the situation has been paradoxically made worse by speeding up the process of court hearings in cases of petty theft:

“In the case of petty theft, within two to three weeks, we can go from apprehending the perpetrator to pronouncing a final verdict. That means we are able to create a recidivist within a fortnight.”

Mr. Vávra says accumulation of prison sentences, doesn’t make sense, because it is ultimately more costly for taxpayers. At the moment, every person in prison costs approximately 1,300 crowns a day.

„It is not in the interest of the state to prolong the offender’s isolation. Our aim is to re-educate offenders and if possible, make sure that they don’t commit more crimes in the future.”

About fifty percent of European countries currently make it possible to take into account previously imposed sentences so as to avoid their accumulation.