Prison: Evidence of its use and over-use from around the world describes patterns and trends in imprisonment in ten contrasting countries across all five continents. Each of the ten countries has a different story to tell about its use of imprisonment.
The report, by Jessica Jacobson, Catherine Heard and Helen Fair, draws on ICPR’s unique World Prison Brief database and highlights the following key findings:
- The United States has around one-fifth of the world’s prisoners. Its prison population more than quadrupled from around half a million in 1980 to a peak of over 2.3 million in 2008.
- Brazil has seen prisoner numbers increase twenty-fold from around 30,000 in 1973 to over 600,000 today. Many prisons are under gang control. Riots, extreme violence and massacres are regularly reported.
- England and Wales has seen its prison population more than double since 1975. Incidents of violence, suicide and self-harm are at a record high and there were four prison riots in 2016.
- In Hungary, tough-on-crime measures have reversed prior declines in prisoner numbers, which are now reaching levels not seen since the mid-1980s. Use of imprisonment for minor offences has increased. Roma and Gypsy people are over-represented in criminal justice statistics.
- The Netherlands has achieved a sustained reduction in imprisonment: Dutch prisoner numbers have fallen steadily since 2005, when they were among the highest in Western Europe.
- In India, the prison population rate is relatively low, but its prisons are severely overcrowded. Almost 70% of inmates are ‘undertrials’ – pre-trial or remand detainees awaiting final decisions in their cases.
- Thailand has seen its prison population surge, largely as a result of a highly punitive approach to drug offences. This has affected women in particular: over 80% of sentenced female prisoners are convicted of drug offences.
- In Kenya, prisons are operating at over twice their capacity. TB, scabies and other medical problems are common. Imprisonment for relatively minor crimes and excessive use of pre-trial detention contribute to overcrowding.
- South Africa’s prisons are also severely overcrowded, partly because of the 3,000% rise in the number of prisoners serving life sentences between 1995 and 2014.
- In Australia, increasingly punitive policies have driven up prisoner numbers. Australia followed the USA’s example of mandatory minimum sentences. Indigenous people represent over a quarter of adult prisoners while making up around 2% of all adult Australians.