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Over 10 Million in Prison Worldwide

by David M. Reutter

There are more than 10.65 million people in prisons worldwide. That figure includes 850,000 in “administrative detention” in China. Almost half of all prisoners are held in only three countries: Russia, China and the United States.

Those conclusions were published in the eighth edition of the World Prison Population List issued by the International Centre for Prison Studies in London. The list details the number of prisoners in 218 countries, utilizing data available as of early December 2008.

According to the list, the U.S. has the highest prison population rate in the world, at 756 per 100,000 population, followed by Russia (629), Rwanda (604), St. Kitts and Nevis (588), Cuba (c. 531), U.S. Virgin Islands (512), British Virgin Islands (488), Palau (478), Belarus (468), Belize (455), Bahamas (422), Georgia (415), American Samoa (410), Grenada (408) and Anguilla (401).

Almost three-fifths (59%) of the countries profiled have rates below 150 per 100,000 population. Considerable variation of rates occurs in different regions of the world and by continent.

For example, for countries in western Africa the average rate is 154, but in southern Africa the rate is 324.5. South central Asian countries have a rate of 53 while in central Asian countries the rate is 184. A rate of 95 was found in southern and western Europe, whereas nations that span Europe and Asia have an average rate of 229.

The prison population continues to increase in many parts of the world. Compared to previous editions of the list, prison populations have grown 71% worldwide. Breaking it down by region, the list found the following growth rates: Africa, 64%; the Americas, 83%; Asia, 76%; Europe, 68%; and Oceania, 60%.

More recently the state prison population in the U.S. was found to have decreased slightly in 2009, according to a report by the Pew Center on the States released on March 17, 2010. The decrease among state prisoners – by an average of .3% – was the first recorded drop since 1972.

The World Prison Population List is available on PLN’s website.

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