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Russell Webster

Russell Webster

Criminal Justice & substance misuse expert and author of this blog.

Which countries imprison the most citizens?

How does the UK fare in the latest international country comparison of incarceration rates?

2017 Incarceration rates in OECD countries

The chart below shows the incarceration rate in OECD countries, as of May 2017. The incarceration rate represents the number of people in prison per 100,000 of population. As of May 2017, the incarceration rate in the United States was 666 prisoners per 100,000 U.S. residents. The data for the chart was gathered by the World Prison Brief.

As you can see, England and Wales is in 14th place, with a much higher rate of incarceration than most European countries but much lower than the USA, New Zealand & Australia.

Additional information on incarceration patterns between countries

The relatively large population of the United States when compared with other OECD countries in conjunction with the country’s extremely high incarceration rate means that the United States houses more than one half of the global prison population. Recent attention has been focused on the number of people imprisoned for minor offences. As such, a large proportion of the United States prison population have been incarcerated for offences that would see them fined or punished through alternative means in other developed countries.

Among this cohort are a significant number of people imprisoned for low-level drug related crimes. Critics have suggested that shifting policy toward drug rehabilitation for users and a focus on high level drug traffickers would have a positive societal effect whilst also lowering the country’s incarceration rate.
When removing the outlier of the United States, a level of variance between countries is apparent.

This variance in incarceration rates among OECD countries suggests cultural differences in societal views towards punishment and rehabilitation. The Scandinavian preference of rehabilitation and the subsequently higher level of investment in such programs have resulted in Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland ranking among those countries for whom the incarceration rate is the lowest.


All infographics are kindly sponsored by Intelligent Fingerprinting whose non-invasive fingerprint drug test has been designed to simplify and support drug screening programmes across a range of applications. IFP has no editorial influence on the contents of this site.

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