TBILISI, DFWatch–Only Russia has a higher percentage of its population behind bars among European countries. 256.3 persons per 100,000 inhabitants were incarcerated in Georgia in 2016, according to a new report by the Council of Europe.

This means the small Caucasus nation is nearly at the top among European countries, only surpassed by Russia, which had 448 incarcerated per 100,000 in the reporting period.

The next countries on the ranking list are Turkey (244.6), Lithuania (244.1) and Azerbaijnan (236.3). Armenia, a neighbor country of Georgia, has only half the ratio of its population behind bars, 130.3 per 100,000.

Georgia is also on the top among European countries in terms of percentage of prisoners serving sentences for theft: 231.7 inmates per 100.000 inhabitants. Poland is second with only 47.8.

Among countries with the highest percentage of prisoners serving sentences for drug offenses, Georgia is also in first place with 88.3 inmates per 100,000 inhabitants, followed by Azerbaijan (50.9) and Estonia (48.6).

On the other hand, Georgia had a significant decrease in the overall prison population. The reduction from 2015 to 2016 was 6.7% , one of the highest in Europe, surpassed only by Iceland (-15.9%), Northern Ireland (-11.8), Lithuania (-11.1%), Belgium (-10.1%).

Generally, the survey shows that the incarceration rate in Europe as a whole grew from 115.7 to 117.1 inmates per 100,000 inhabitants from 2015 to 2016. This rate had previously fallen every year since 2012, when it reached 125.6 prisoners per 100,000 inhabitants.

The report also shows a 15.9% decrease in the rate of incarceration in Georgia between 2006 and 2016. President Mikheil Saakashvili carried out a tough policy against crime, which boosted the prison population, while the Georgian Dream government released over half the prison population in 2013 in an amnesty prompted by a large number of complaints of mistreatment and miscarriages of justice.

Europe has seen a decrease in its incarceration rate since 2006. Comparing the situation in 2016 to the one in 2006, 19 European countries reduced their prison population rate (PPR) by more than 5%, while 18 countries increased their PPR by more than 5%. The highest increase was observed in Turkey (+161.7%).