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Estimated 10.35 Million Prisoners Worldwide, Three Million in Pre-trial Detention

by Derek Gilna

The Institute of Criminal Policy Research (ICPR), part of the Birkbeck University of London, has collected statistics that indicate approximately three million people were held in pre-trial/remand detention worldwide as of the end of November 2016. According to the ICPR, its data “shows the number of people held in pre-trial detention and other forms of remand imprisonment in 216 prison systems in independent countries and dependent territories.”

Roy Walmsley, director of the ICPR’s World Prison Brief, said, “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.”

As part of its research, the ICPR determined that more than 467,000 people 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 were in pre-trial detention. China was estimated to have 200,000 pre-trial detainees.

Since a similar study was published in 2000 the totals in Africa and Europe have dropped over 20%, but they increased in Asia, the Americas and Oceania by at least 34%.

“Pre-trial imprisonment is a major – but preventable – cause of today’s high global prison population, contributing to inhumane, overcrowded prison conditions,” said Catherine Heard with the ICPR. “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 ... [which] provides vital recognition of the harmful effects of pre-trial detention on communities and economies....”

It has been widely recognized by criminal justice experts that pre-trial detention facilities, often overcrowded and generally designed for holding people for relatively short periods of time, usually lack adequate medical, mental health and educational services, especially in third-world or developing countries with limited financial resources. As Walmsley noted, “policy makers worldwide [should] consider what they can do to limit pre-trial/remand imprisonment, given the widespread acknowledgement that it is often used excessively.”

The world prison population list, also published by the ICPR, reported an estimated 10.35 million people were held in detention facilities worldwide as of the end of October 2015. That estimate included over 2.2 million prisoners in the United States and excluded missing data for Eritrea, Somalia and the Democratic People’s Republic of (North) Korea.  



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