World Facts

Incarceration Rates By Country

Half of the world's incarcerated population is held in the US, China or Russia. This data reveals the countries with the highest incarceration rates.

The International Center for Prison Studies estimates that more than 10.2 million people were incarcerated in prisons and other penal institutions around the world in 2013. The number of people behind bars has been increasing every year since the beginning of the millennium, and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime estimates that there has been a 10% increase in the global prison population since the year 2004. Imprisonment rates were found to vary greatly between countries with some areas recording incarceration of as few as 2 out every 100,000 people, while others recorded more than 800 out of every 100,000 people serving time behind bars at this time. The country with the highest rates of incarcerated persons were the Seychelles, with 868 out of every 100,000 persons in prison, while the USA and St. Kitts and Nevis take the 2nd and 3rd places, with 698 and 611 persons, respectively, out of every 100,000 serving jail time. The average number of people behind bars worldwide was 144 persons out of every 100,000.

Who gets imprisoned?

The UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights published a report in 2011 showing that adult men from the poorest segments of society are the most likely demographic to be imprisoned. Female prisoners make up 6.5% of the global prison population. South Eastern and Eastern Asia recorded the highest levels of women behind bars, while Africa recorded the lowest. Similar to patterns seen among male prisoners, the poorest and most marginalized women are the susceptible to be detained. Female inmates are typically arrested for such crimes as theft and fraud. Children and young persons are also not immune to arrest, and the UNODC discovered that 1.2% of young people were being held prisoner in penal systems, juvenile schools, as well as hospitals and orphanages. In addition, many children were found to be living with their mothers in prisons, raising the number of minors under penal institutions. Finally, correctional facilities are recording growing numbers of elderly prisoners. In the USA, for instance, the number of incarcerated males over the age of 55 grew from 8,853 in 1981, to 124,900 in 2012. This was mainly due to individuals receiving long prison sentences, which kept people locked up into old age for crimes committed when they were younger.

Effects of Imprisonment Trends

Most prisoners tend to be adult males and females from marginalized sectors of society with limited economic opportunities, orphaned children or children without guardians, and, increasingly, elderly people serving out long sentences. Arresting these particular segments of society has resulted in the following effects:

  • Broken homes, including significant others and children, left to fend for themselves when primary breadwinners are taken away. Poor families often have only one person working a job or running a business in order to support the family, so arresting a parent of either gender increases the burden on the parent that is left behind, resulting in greater poverty. This often contributes to the creation of a new generation of criminals, as children and young people are forced to steal and engage in other illegal activities in order to survive or help keep the family afloat.
  • Illiteracy and lack of access to education, as most children of imprisoned persons cannot afford to go to school and fend for themselves at the same time.
  • Increased mental health issues in both the incarcerated persons and the families left behind. Anxiety, depression and insomnia are significantly more common in these cases than in the general population.
  • The increase in elderly prisoners behind bars is driving up healthcare costs in prisons, and many correctional facilities are finding themselves ill equipped to handle the challenges faced by elderly prisoners, such as Alzheimer’s and other degenerative diseases, and problems assimilating back into society once they are released.

  • The important incarceration trends outlined above supply important data to policy makers and other people in authoritative positions in drafting laws and policies. For such officials, passing legislation that is both informed and well-planned is crucial to help ensure that prisoners under their jurisdiction receive rehabilitation necessary to equip them to become productive and law-abiding members of society upon their release.



    Incarceration Rates By Country

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    RankCountriesNumber of Prisoners per 100k Population
    1Seychelles868
    2United States of America698
    3St. Kitts and Nevis611
    4Virgin Islands (USA)542
    5Turkmenistan522
    6Cuba510
    7Rwanda492
    8El Salvador465
    9Russian Federation463
    10Thailand452
    11Belize449
    12Grenada430
    13Virgin Islands (United Kingdom)425
    14Guam (USA)422
    15Bermuda (United Kingdom)411
    16Anguilla (United Kingdom)407
    17Sint Maarten (Netherlands)396
    18Panama392
    19Antigua and Barbuda389
    20Bahamas379

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