The United States has more female prisoners than China, Russia and India combined. According to the International Centre for Prison Studies, the U.S. has 201,200 female prisoners, 8.8 percent of its total prison population. China comes a very distant second with 84,600 female prisoners while Russia is in third place with 59,000. 625,000 women and girls are being held in penal institutions worldwide and the female prison population is rising on all five continents.
The infographic below provides more details.
You will find more statistics at Statista
Drugs the main factor
We know that a large proportion of women in prison in England and Wales are drug dependent – 54% female remand prisoners were addicted to drugs in the year prior to being in prison. There is a parallel situation in the USA.
Women are more than 50% more likely to be imprisoned for a drug crime than men (25.7% vs 17.2%).
Then there are specific drug offences which only affect women, some of them very recent. A new law came into force in the State of Tennessee on 1 July 2014 which meant that women can be imprisoned:
“for the illegal use of a narcotic drug while pregnant, if her child is born addicted to or harmed by the narcotic drug”
The most likely consequence of this law is, of course, that pregnant drug users are unlikely to seek medical help for fear of being sent to jail.
We need to prioritise treating women drug users rather than criminalising and imprisoning them.