Prisons remained unprotected during the 4th wave of the pandemic

Measures to limit the transmission of coronavirus in Greek prisons did not work, resulting in a 1.4 times higher spread within correctional facilities, between July 2021 and February 2022 compared to the general population.

The iMEdD Lab in collaboration with the MIIR (Mediterranean Institute for Investigative Reporting) and 10 journalist groups of the European Data Journalism Network, led by the Deutsche Welle, collected data from 32 countries showing how many cases and deaths were reported in prisons, how vaccinations progressed and what measures were taken to limit the spread of the virus.

In the first part of the investigation, we looked into the spread of the virus in European prisons. At the same time, we highlighted the chronic issues of Greek prisons such as overcrowding; the measures taken in Greece at the beginning of the pandemic, and how these affect the rights of inmates; while the analysis of the data showed that the living space of inmates is limited to such a point as to constitute a direct violation of Αrticle 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, on the prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment.

Our comparative analysis of data revealed that during the pandemic, the occupancy rate of Greek prisons increased rather than decrease, resulting in Greece being among the countries that had a higher spread of the virus in prisons compared to the general population. Specifically, by 2 July 2021, 16 months after the start of the pandemic, it is estimated that 7.9% of prisoners overall had contracted covid-19, while 4.1% of the general population in Greece was infected with the virus. Our conclusions are confirmed by the Council of Europe’s annual report published on 5 April, according to which on 31 January 2021 the number of prisoners in Greece was 106.1 per 100,000 inhabitants, up 3.6% compared to 2020. At the same time, the average number of prisoners in prisons in Council of Europe member states was 101.9 per 100,000 inhabitants, down 2.3% compared to 2020 (104.3). According to the report, in Europe as a whole, prison density fell by 5.3% compared to a year earlier (from 90.2 to 85.4 prisoners per 100 available places). However, Greece was among the countries reporting prison overcrowding (111.4 prisoners per 100 places), behind Romania (119.3 prisoners per 100 places) and ahead Cyprus (110.5), Belgium (108.4), Turkey (108.3), and Italy (105.5). Greece also has a very high prisoner-to-staff ratio in prisons (2.8 prisoners for every one staff member), while the European average is 1.4 prisoners for every one staff member.

In the second part of the research, we look into what happened between July 1, 2021, and February 18, 2022, at each detention facility. This is the period spanned by the fourth wave of the pandemic, in which the Delta mutation was succeeded by Omicron.

According to official data, made available to us by the General Secretariat of Anti-crime Policy, 541 cases and 14 deaths of inmates have been recorded up to February 18, 2022

Εξέλιξη κρουσμάτων

  • 13 Nov. 2020



  • 12 Feb. 2021



  • 2 Jul. 2021


    Cases – 5 deaths

  • 1 Oct. 2021



  • 5 Nov. 2021


    Cases – 8 deaths

  • 18 Feb. 2022


    Cases – 14 deaths

The percentage of inmates diagnosed with coronavirus

Between July 1, 2021, and February 18, two dates for which we hold detailed data on cases by detention facility, 2,671 inmates were diagnosed with coronavirus.

Specifically, 870 cases had been recorded by July 1 and 3,541 cases by February 18, 2022.

1.4 times higher spread within prisons compared to the general population

Given the fact that the average total number of inmates in this eight-month period was 11,037, it is estimated that 24% of inmates in prisons during this period were diagnosed with COVID-19. The corresponding percentage in the general population is 17%.

Prisons with the most cases

Excluding the Inmates’ Special Health Center of Korydallos, the Detention Centers of Nafplio, Corinth, Kos, and Amfissa showed the highest spread with more than 500 cases per 1,000 inmates.

Questions about the situation in Nafplio Prison

In Nafplio, almost seven out of ten inmates were diagnosed with coronavirus between July 2021 and February 2022, despite the fact that during the first three waves of the pandemic there were no officially recorded cases among inmates.

The prison warden, Ioanna Anastasopoulou on November 19, 2021, told The Press Project reporter Nektaria Psaraki “Up until two weeks ago, we were the only facility with zero cases. The number of cases among inmates is not set, as someone who is currently negative suddenly becomes positive” and then she expressed unawareness regarding the source of the spread “We cannot know. Maybe from prison officers, maybe from the inmates. Every week we have a unit of the National Public Health Organization (NPHO) performing rapid tests on all inmates and furthermore, when the inmates leave the prison to go to the transfer office or to the courts, they are obliged by order to have a rapid test. At the same time, visitors are monitored. By order also, visitors must be vaccinated or hold a negative rapid test of 48 hours prior to the visit, which is carried out behind a sealed glass partition.”

Nafplio is a prison that can accommodate 273 inmates, but during the eight-month period, it had more than 400 inmates, each of them having 2.7 square meters of personal space available throughout the prison.

Search each detention facility

Comparison with the general population

We have looked into the data of 22 areas in Greece where correctional facilities are operating. In 15 of these areas, more cases are recorded in prisons than in the general population. In Phocis and Argolis, the spread within prisons was 4.7 and 4.1 times higher than in the general population, while in Corinth it was 3.9 times higher.

Seven areas record fewer cases in prisons compared to the general population. In Boeotia, Thessaloniki, Larissa, Halkidiki, Chania, and Patras the spread within prisons was lower than in the general population.

A total of 205.5 cases per 1,000 inhabitants were recorded in the 22 areas over the eight months from July 1, 2021, to February 18, 2022. Similarly, 242 cases per 1,000 inmates were recorded in prisons.

Likewise, in the period between March 1, 2020, and July 1, 2021, the spread within prisons was higher compared to the general population in 13 areas of Greece and lower in 9 areas. This means that during the fourth wave, the spread within prisons was even higher compared to the previous period.

From the 1st to the 4th wave

We have data on the prison pandemic for five dates. Specifically, for November 13, 2020, February 12, 2021, July 2, 2021 (per detention facility), November 5, 2021, February 18, 2022 (per detention facility).

At all five times, the spread within prisons was higher than in the general population. In particular, by November 2020, 0.4% of the general population had been diagnosed positive for coronavirus whereas 0.9% of inmates had been diagnosed positive. In February 2021, 3.8% of inmates had been diagnosed positive for coronavirus compared to 1.6% of the general population. In July 2021 the figures were 7.9% and 4% respectively. In November 2021 the spread in prisons was again more than double (16.8% vs. 7.2%). By February 2022, the period spanned by the fourth wave of the pandemic, 32.6% of inmates had been diagnosed with coronavirus compared to 21.2% of the general population.

Cases in the fourth wave increased more rapidly outside prison

If we concentrate on the period November 2021 – to February 2022, we can see that the rate of increase of cases in the general population was several times higher than in prisons. Specifically, from November 2021 to February 2022, cases outside prisons increased by 193.7%, while cases inside prisons increased by 88.8%. On the contrary, between July 2021 and November 2021, the situation was reversed. That is, cases in prisons had increased by 115.6% while cases in the general population had increased by 82.5%. Nevertheless, a higher proportion of inmates had contracted coronavirus by February 2022 compared to the general population.

Delayed vaccinations

The vaccination program in prisons started on July 1, 2021, well behind the general population, despite the fact that this is a vulnerable population living in enclosed, and therefore twice as dangerous, facilities.

According to the records of the Special Permanent Committee of the Penitentiary System and Other Detention Facilities of June 10, 2021, only 388 inmates (out of a total of 11,031, a 3.5% percentage) and 504 employees had been fully vaccinated. In the same period, only 22 inmates had received the first dose. That is a total of 410 vaccinations of inmates, the majority of whom had received the Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine. By November 18, 2021, only 59% of inmates were vaccinated (6,600 inmates).

“Vaccination of prisoners should be one of the top priorities of every state because living conditions enhance the transmission of disease. Prisoners are under the responsibility of the state, they are not able to protect themselves, their health, to take the measures they themselves consider necessary to prevent the risks posed by the pandemic”, stresses Iphigenia Kamtsidou, Associate Professor of Constitutional Law at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and member of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture of the Council of Europe (CPT). “It is for this reason that a democratic state should first and foremost take care of the health and lives of the people under its responsibility.” 

The research project was carried out in collaboration with the European Data Journalism Network.
Project leader: Deutsche Welle
Partners: Alternatives EconomiquesCivioEl ConfidencialEURologusIl Sole24OreiMEdDMIIROBC TranseuropaOpenpolisPod črtoVoxEurop

Research and graph development: Thanasis Troboukis (iMEdD Lab)
Research: Nikos Morfonios, Janine Louloudi (MIIR)
Contributing Reporter: Kelly Kiki (iMEdD Lab)
The graphs were developed by iMEdD Lab and are available under a Creative Commons license. Therefore, they are available for public use by reference to the source. The inclusion of an iMEdD Lab graph in a web page or article does not imply that the iMEdD Lab endorses the content of that page or article.