Reclusos Estrangeiros em Portugal

Following the study Foreigners’ Criminality in Portugal: A Scientific Survey, in this work the authors look at the so-called top of the criminality pyramid, that is, the reality of foreign inmates in Portugal. In this sense, the official statistics of the Directorate General for Prison Services over the ten-year period 1994-2003 were analysed, with special focus given to this last year.

Between 1994 and 2003, the number of foreigners incarcerated in the Portuguese prison system went from 991 to 2,145. This 116% increase is higher than that of the prisoner population in general, therefore resulting in an increase in the proportion of foreigners in this sphere from 9.6% in 1994 to 15.7% in 2003.

The evolution of the foreign population with legal residence in Portugal was 176% over the same period, according to official data. It is pejorative to think of resident foreigners as a recruitment base for foreigners serving prison sentences. However, it is interesting to note that the increase in foreign prisoners has been slower than that of the legally resident foreign population.

The nationalities with the longest immigration history in the Portuguese context, namely the Portuguese-speaking African countries (PALOPs) and Brazil, are the most represented in the prison system over the ten years under analysis. In addition, the presence of Spanish citizens among the most frequent nationalities demonstrates that the above-mentioned evolution cannot be seen as being exclusively the result of immigration movements.

Framing the Portuguese situation in the European Union context, we see that in September 2003, the weighting of foreigners in the Portuguese prison system was, according to the Council of Europe, the fourth lowest of the EU15 and the tenth lowest of the EU25. Looking at this comparison through introducing the weighting of the foreign population on the total population of each country in this ratio, Portugal becomes the fourth EU25 country with the lowest overrepresentation of foreigners in the prison system when compared with the weighting of foreigners in the resident population.

In the 2003 analysis we have seen major discrepancies, possibly showing differing treatments for Portuguese and foreigners concerning prison regimes, namely in the rare application of open prison for foreigners and also in the rare application of electronic surveillance.

Furthermore, on the analysis of prisoners released in 2003, we have seen, similarly to the observations of the study of the judicial system, more frequent incorrect use of preventative custody on foreigners, resulting in numerous releases through posterior application of non-custodial measures, acquittals or non-custodial sentences.

Lastly, reflection on the question of disparity between the proportion of foreigners in Portugal and the Portuguese prison system has led us to a plurality of alternative scenarios, none of which is ‘true’ but all of which are more correct than simply taking two percentages without thinking about what conditions are produced and what they really mean. We therefore conclude that the simplicity with which it is usual to compare foreigners in prison with foreigners in the population is one of the proverbial images that is misleading.