I would like to help today and donate

Next
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Next
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
CLOSE
NEWS

Over 10.35 million are currently in prison worldwide, the WPPL finds

editor - February 3, 2016 - Pre-trial detention

Prisoner_population_rate_world_2012_map Prisoner population rates (per 100,000 of national population), 2012
 

“Imprisonment—mere loss of liberty—has never functioned without a certain additional element of punishment that certainly concerns the body itself: rationing of food, […] corporal punishment, solitary confinement… There remains, therefore, a trace of ‘torture’ in the modern mechanisms of criminal justice.” Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (1975).  

Those who are subjected to this ‘trace of torture’ make up 0.14% of the world’s population. Indeed, more than 10.35 million people are currently in prison across the globe, according to latest edition of the World Prison Population List (WPPL). However, this figure may well exceed 11 million, as data for Eritrea, North Korea and Somalia are unavailable.

The WPPL’s eleventh edition, researched and compiled by Roy Walmsley and published today by Birkberk’s Institute for Criminal Policy Research, offers up-to-date information on global prison population, as well as the national prison population rates of 223 countries and territories. Figures include both those who have been convicted and sentenced, and those on pre-trial detention. About 3 million people are currently in prison awaiting trial.

The United States continues to lead the list as the world’s biggest jailer, with 2.2 million prisoners, followed by China, with 1.65 million (although the number of pre-trial detainees is unknown), and Russia, with 640,000 prisoners.

However, the United States is surpassed by Seychelles when it comes to the prison population rate, that is, the number of prisoners per 100,000 of the national population. Seychelles’ prison population rate stands at 799 per 100,000, followed by the United States (698), St. Kitts and Nevis (607), Turkmenistan (583), and, inter alia, Cuba (510), El Salvador (492), Thailand (461), Russia (445), and Rwanda (434).

The Central African Republic brings up the rear, with only 16 prisoners per 100,000 inhabitants, after Lichtenstein (21), the Republic of Guinea (26) and the Republic of Congo (27).

The report also estimates that the world prison population rate is 144 per 100,000. The majority (55%) of countries and territories have achieved rates below 150 per 100,000, which suggests that high prison population rates are somewhat of an exception.

Some of the WPPL’s findings make disturbing reading. First, the total world prison population has increased by almost 20% since 2000, which is above the 18% global population growth for the same period. Europe is the only continent where the total prison population has gone down (by 21%), whereas in Oceania and the Americas it has soared by 60% and 40%, respectively. Second, the world total female prison population has rocketed by 50% since 2000, while the equivalent figure for male prisoners has strikingly only increased by 18%. As a result, the proportion of women and girls in prison is now 6.8% of the total prison population, a 1.6% increase since 2000.

As noted by Roy Walmsley, author of the study, the increasingly high number of people held in penal institutions across the world “should prompt policy makers in all countries to consider what they can do to limit the numbers in custody, given the high costs and disputed efficacy of imprisonment and the fact that prison overcrowding is widespread”.

To conclude, the data presented by the WPPL raises wider questions about the structural causes behind this global trend towards mass incarceration. The question for Fair Trials is whether those who are imprisoned are in such a situation following a fair trial, and whether the detainee in question had the opportunity to exercise their right to a fair trial at all. In the United States, 97% of criminal cases do not reach the courts because they are resolved through plea bargains. In fact, as a consequence of plea bargaining, in the United States 20,000 factually innocent people are imprisoned for crimes to which they pleaded guilty but did not commitIn such cases, evidence supporting their innocence could not be weighed in a court of law.

In addition, against this background, Fair Trials continues to strive against arbitrary and excessive pre-trial detention, and campaigns for international human rights standards on pre-trial detention to be more widely understood and applied in practice.

If you are a journalist interested in this story, please telephone Fair Trials’ press department on +44 (0) 20 7822 2370 or +44 (0) 7950 849 851. For regular updates follow Fair Trials on Twitter or sign up to our monthly bulletin at the bottom of the page.

If you are a journalist interested in this story, please telephone Fair Trials’ press department on +44 (0) 20 7822 2370 or +32 (0) 2 360 04 71.

Keep up to date

Receive updates on our work and news about Fair Trials globally

Activities in the following sections on this website are supported by the Justice Programme of the European Union: Legal Experts Advisory Panel, Defence Rights Map, Case Law Database, Advice Guides and Latest News. More information about our financial supporters is available here.