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Russell Webster

Russell Webster

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

The World’s Most Overcrowded Prison Systems

Two thirds of English and Welsh prison are overcrowded, yet we only come 93rd in the list of the world's most overcrowded prison systems.

A global problem

In England and Wales, prison overcrowding is defined by the prison service as a prison containing more prisoners than the establishment’s Certified Normal Accommodation (CNA). CNA represents “the good, decent standard of accommodation that the [prison] service aspires to provide all prisoners.”

According to the Prison Reform Trust’s latest Bromley Briefing, the prison system as a whole has been overcrowded in every year since 1994. Overcrowding affects whether activities, staff and other resources are available to reduce risk of reoffending, as well as distance from families and other support networks.

In 2016–17, two-thirds of prisons in England and Wales were overcrowded (79 of the 119 prisons). Nearly 21,000 people were held in overcrowded accommodation—almost a quarter of the prison population. The majority were doubling up in cells designed for one. This level of overcrowding has remained broadly unchanged for the last 14 years.

According to Bureau of Justice Statistics, the U.S. has a prison population of 2.2 million, 481 inmates per 100,000 of the population. The U.S. prison system has attracted headlines for overcrowding with 18 states reporting they were operating at over 100 percent capacity at the end of 2014. 

According to the World Prison Brief, England and Wales has an occupancy level of 111.6 per cent and is rated as 93rd worst in the worldwhen it comes to overcrowding in prisons, while the U.S. has an an occupancy level of 103.9% and comes 113th. 

Somebody who gets arrested and jailed in Haiti will have to endure far tougher conditions. The Caribbean nation has the most overcrowded prisons of any country worldwide and its institutions are operating at 454 percent capacity. That has resulted in 80 to 100 men being crammed into a single cell at once, malnutrition and the spread of disease. Many of Haiti’s inmates have not been convicted of a crime and the UN has condemned the situtation, saying inmates are subject to daily violations of their human rights. 

The situation in the Philippines is similar and conditions in its prisons have deteriorated steadily since President Rodrigo Duterte launched his war on drugs. That has seen the number of arrests skyrocket with thousands of people thrown into prison. That has seen occupancy rates stretched to 436 percent of capacity and Quezon City Jail is a good example. An ABC News report claims the facility was built to house 262 prisoners and it now hosts over 3,000. El Salvador comes third for prison overcrowding with its institutions operating at 348.2 percent of their capacity.

For full details, see the infographic below from Statista.

(You can see the original here) 

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