New report shows worldwide female prison population rising faster than the male

The female prison population worldwide has risen by more than 50% since 2000 with more than 714,000 women and girls now imprisoned globally, according to new research from Birkbeck’s Institute of Criminal Policy Research.

The fourth edition of the World Female Imprisonment List, released today, shows the number of women and girls in prison around the world has jumped by more than half since the turn of the century. The List was researched and compiled by Roy Walmsley and published by the Institute for Criminal Policy Research at Birkbeck, University of London.

The figures show female prison population levels have risen far more steeply than for men with an increase of 53%, while the male population has increased by around 20%

Of the UK jurisdictions, Scotland has the highest proportion of women in its prison population at 4.9%, followed by England and Wales with 4.6% and Northern Ireland with 3.6%.

The rise in female prisoner numbers cannot be attributed to global population growth, which was around 21% over the same period, according to United Nations figures. 

Director of ICPR’s World Prison Research Programme, Catherine Heard said: “Our prisons research at ICPR aims to bring about a deeper understanding of the many interwoven factors that combine to drive increases in countries’ use of imprisonment and to find concrete, practical solutions to end the unsustainable increases in imprisonment levels that we have seen in recent history.

“To do this, we need to focus on providing a much better account of who it is that our states choose to imprison, and why.”

The new list provides information on the total numbers of women and girls in prison for almost all countries across the globe, as well as the percentage they represent of the total prison population and the number per 100,000 of each country’s national population. It also includes information about trends in female imprisonment.

The research found women and girls make up 7% of the global prison population, with the US heading the field for the highest number of female prisoners at more than 200,000. The sharpest rise was in El Salvador where the number of female prisoners is ten times the 2000 level.

In the two years since the previous edition of this list was published, the female prison population numbers in Brazil, Indonesia, Philippines and Turkey have risen sharply, while numbers in Mexico, the Russian Federation, Thailand and Vietnam have fallen substantially.

Catherine added: “Women and girls in prison are a vulnerable and disadvantaged group and tend to be victims of crime and abuse themselves. Governments and prison administrations should be asking searching questions about the factors underlying this data and how they can address them.”

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