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Around 3 million held in pre-trial detention worldwide: new report

Around three million people are held in pre-trial detention and other forms of remand imprisonment throughout the world, new report published by the Institute for Criminal Policy Research shows.

Around three million people are held in pre-trial detention and other forms of remand imprisonment throughout the world, according to the latest edition of the World Pre-trial/Remand Imprisonment List (WPTRIL), researched and compiled by Roy Walmsley and published on Thursday 23 February by the Institute for Criminal Policy Research, at Birkbeck, University of London.

Prisoners in pre-trial detention or remand are those who, in connection with an alleged offence or offences, are deprived of liberty following a judicial or other legal process but have not been definitively sentenced.

More than two and a half million pre-trial/remand prisoners are held in 216 countries listed in this report. Taking account of the more than 200,000 such prisoners who are believed to be held in China, those who are omitted from national totals in some countries because they are held in police facilities in the pre-court stage, and those held in the other nine countries on which official information is not available, the overall total is close to three million.

The total includes more than 467,000 in the United States, 282,000 in India, 212,000 in Brazil, 108,000 in Russia, 92,000 in Mexico, 76,000 in the Philippines, 63,000 in Indonesia and 61,000 in Thailand.

In about half of all countries in Africa, southern and western Asia, more than 40% of the prison population are pre-trial/remand prisoners. The countries with the highest proportion of the total prison population in pre-trial/remand imprisonment, excluding three countries with very small national populations, are: Libya (90%), Paraguay (78%), Benin (75%), Bangladesh (74%), Democratic Republic of Congo (73%), Nigeria (72%) and Haiti (71%).

Since about the year 2000, the number of people in pre-trial/remand imprisonment has grown by around 15%. However, the pre-trial/remand total in 2000 was elevated by the very large number of genocide-related detainees in Rwanda. If the Rwanda figures are omitted, the number of people in pre-trial/remand imprisonment has grown since about 2000 by almost 21%.

There are considerable differences between the continents and between individual countries in trends in pre-trial/remand levels since 2000:

  • The African total has fallen by almost 20%, mainly due to progress in dealing with the Rwanda genocide cases. If the Rwanda figures are omitted the African total has risen by about 5%.
  • The total in the Americas has increased by over 60%, with numbers more than doubling in El Salvador, Guatemala, Brazil, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, Venezuela and some smaller countries.
  • The total in Asia has increased by over 34%, with numbers rising sixfold in Cambodia, trebling in Indonesia and doubling in the Philippines. By contrast the number of pre-trial/remand prisoners has fallen by 65% in Kazakhstan.
  • The total in Europe has fallen by 42%, with numbers having halved in the Russian Federation and fallen substantially also in most other former Soviet republics and former socialist countries of central and eastern Europe. The totals fell also, but much less sharply, in southern and western Europe.
  • The total in the countries of Oceania has increased by more than 175%, due to the more than trebling of the numbers in pre-trial/remand imprisonment in both Australia and New Zealand.

In short, numbers of pre-trial/remand prisoners have grown rapidly in the Americas, Asia and Oceania – far outstripping general population growth in these three continents. By contrast, Africa (excluding Rwanda) has seen a modest rise in the pre-trial/remand population, at a time of rapid growth in the general population. Europe’s large fall in numbers of pre-trial/remand prisoners has coincided with a slight increase in the size of the general population.

Compiler of the World Prison Population List, Roy Walmsley, said:

"It is of great concern that there are now close to three million people held in pre-trial/remand imprisonment throughout the world. It is particularly noticeable that pre-trial/remand prisoners constitute so high a proportion of the prison population in much of Africa and southern and western Asia.

"Also striking is the growth since 2000 in numbers of pre-trial/remand prisoners in the Americas, some south eastern Asia countries and Australia and New Zealand. In many countries in all continents prison conditions are worse for those in pre-trial/remand detention than for sentenced prisoners despite the obligation to treat accused persons as innocent until they are proved guilty. This should prompt policy makers worldwide to consider what they can do to limit pre-trial/remand imprisonment, given the widespread acknowledgement that it is often used excessively."

Catherine Heard, Director of the World Prison Research Programme at the Institute for Criminal Policy Research, said:

"Pre-trial imprisonment is a major – but preventable – cause of today’s high global prison population, contributing to inhumane, overcrowded prison conditions. In 2015, 193 states committed to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Agenda, which includes a specific target relating to access to justice, a key indicator of this being states’ pre-trial detention rates."

"This provides vital recognition of the harmful effects of pre-trial detention on communities and economies. It is now important that states maintain accurate records of how many people are detained pre-trial; that alternatives to detention are available; and that justice systems are properly resourced so that cases get to court without needless delays."

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