Proportion of foreign prisoners drops to 15-year low

The Bässlergut II prison in Canton Basel City. Keystone / Georgios Kefalas

The number of foreign inmates in Swiss prisons, though still almost 70%, is at its lowest point in 15 years, according to annual statistics.

This content was published on May 11, 2020 - 16:31

As of January 2020, a total of 4,807 foreign nationals were imprisoned in Switzerland, from a total inmate number of 6,906, the Federal Statistical Office reportedExternal link on Monday. Some 267 of these non-Swiss prisoners were facing deportation to their country of origin.

The number of foreign prisoners is down 4% on last year, Marcelo Aebi, a criminologist at the University of Lausanne, told the Keystone-SDA news agency.

+ Why are so many prisoners in Swiss jails foreign?

Overall, a decrease of 1% in total prisoner numbers was recorded since January 2019. Aebi said movements within a range of plus or minus 5% represent “stability”.

He predicted that the very slight downward trend could continue as a result of Covid-19-enforced border closures, which will likely hamper the operations of cross-border criminal gangs.

Swiss prisons have a total of 7,390 places, which means they are operating at 93.5% capacity. However, according to another criminologist, André Kuhn of the University of Neuchâtel, the situation differs across the country: in French-speaking Switzerland prisons are over-populated and are thus also less inclined to put someone in provisional detention than a prison in, say, Basel.

As for the effects of the coronavirus, although imprisonments have decreased, paroles have also gone down. Hearings and committees have been affected by health and safety measures, Kuhn said, and fewer prisoners are being allowed out on conditional release.

Of the 6,906 total prisoners, 401 (5.8%) were women.

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