(Bloomberg) --

Prisons across Europe, led by Turkey, released more than 122,000 inmates during the initial weeks of the Covid-19 outbreak to try to slow the spread of the coronavirus among often overcrowded prison populations.

Turkey released 102,944 prisoners alone, or 35% of those incarcerated in the country and more than double the rate on a per capita basis of the next two countries on the list, Cyprus and Slovenia, according to the study commissioned for the Council of Europe.

Prison administrators across Europe began to release thousands of low-risk inmates nearing the end of their sentences in March as infection rates on the continent began to surge. Justice ministries, meanwhile, turned to amnesties, home detention or sentence commutation to slow the arrival of new offenders to prison in the first place.

Turkey’s prison population surged in the aftermath of the attempted coup in 2016 as the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrested or detained tens of thousands of suspected sympathizers of the insurrection. The Council of Europe study, written by criminologists at the University of Lausanne, steered clear of speculating on the categories of prisoners released in Turkey, saying only that the move was done as a “preventative measure.”

Turkey and Russia, neither of which are in the European Union, have the highest incarceration rates of the 47 countries that belong to the Council of Europe, each with more than 325 prisoners per 100,000 inhabitants as of April 15. Much of the prisoner releases in Turkey happened after that date, the study says.

Still, that pales in comparison to the rate of imprisonment of the U.S., which stands at 655 per 100,000. The lowest in Europe, at around 80, are found in Scandinavia, the Netherhlands and Ireland.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.