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The latest global prison trends (2017)
Prison Reform International's invaluable authoritative guide to the latest trends in imprisonment across the world.

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Penal Reform International

Last week Penal Reform International launched its annual flagship publication, Global Prison Trends 2017, at the UN Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice.

This is the third edition in their annual Global Prison Trends series and explores:

  • Trends in the use of imprisonment, such as pre-trial detention and life imprisonment
  • Prison populations, such as the specific needs of women, foreign nationals and elderly prisoners
  • Developments and challenges in prison management, including security issues and violence, prison labour, and violent extremism in prison
  • The role of technology in the criminal justice system, such as e-learning and video visitation
  • Prison alternatives, including the use of electronic monitoring and community service orders

A Special Focus section looks at the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in relation to criminal justice, using examples from a range of countries to highlight specific issues and summarising why criminal justice and criminal justice reform must play a part in achieving the goals set out in the 2030 Agenda.

As usual, I find it hard to do justice to the full (64 page) report and so have resorted to my usual tactic of picking out the ten key facts that I found to be of particular interest:

1: Crime rates are down across the world but rates of imprisonment are up

Figures from February 2016 show that more than 10.35 million people are held in penal institutions worldwide, although the full total is higher as data is unavailable from several countries and pre‑trial detainees in police facilities are not always counted in prison totals. This represents an increase of almost 20 per cent since the year 2000, more than the estimated 18 per cent increase in the general population.

2: Rapid increase in number of women in prison

While women prisoners continue to be a minority in all regions (less than 10 per cent), the female prison population has increased faster than the male prison population on every continent.

3: Overcrowding is very common

Prison occupancy levels in 79 countries (40 per cent of the world’s states) were above 120 per cent capacity and as many as 51 countries (26 per cent) had a problem of extreme overcrowding, with occupancy levels above 150 per cent.

4: Why people are in prison

The largest share of sentenced persons in prison globally have been convicted for property offences (44 persons per 100,000 population). About as many have been sentenced for violent offences, including intentional homicide, manslaughter, robbery and sexual violence. Prisoners convicted for drug‑related offences account for 18 per cent of all prisoners, while financial crimes and corruption make up only two per cent.

5: The number of people in prison has been driven down by justice reforms in some countries

These include the USA, Netherlands, Kazakhstan and Georgia.

6: The death penalty has been discontinued in many countries but the number of global executions continues to rise

An ever greater number of countries have now abandoned capital punishment in law and practice, but there was also a dramatic increase in executions in 2015 compared to 2014 carried out by a small number of retentionist countries. The number of confirmed executions increased by 54 per cent in 2015 compared to 2014,77 with at least 1,634 individuals executed in 25 countries (the actual figure is believed to be higher still).

7: Drug-related death penalties

In at least 33 countries and territories, the death penalty is still applicable for drug‑related offences, including 10 where the death penalty was mandatory. The Filipino President has been the subject of international condemnation for waging a war on drugs. Over 7,000 people have been killed since 30 June 2016 when the President assumed office and called for enforcement agencies and the public to kill both
people who use drugs and people suspected of trafficking drugs who do not surrender.

8: Children in prison

The total number of children – those under 18 years old – in various forms of detention was estimated to be about a million in 2010. UNODC suggested that the number of children in prison may be slowly declining, with the rate falling from 12 to 10 per 100,000 children between the period 2004–2006 and the period 2011–2013.

9: Drug treatment in prison

Of the 158 countries reviewed, 90 currently provide Needle Syringe Programmes outside of prison settings, while only eight provide it in at least one prison. The provision of Opioid Substitute Treatment (see here for provision in England and Wales) is more common in
prisons. Forty‑two of the 80 countries providing OST in the community make it available in at least one prison, an increase of 21 per cent from 2014.

10: Elderly prisoners

Elderly prisoners have become a significant population group in many prison systems. In Japan, almost 20 per cent of people arrested by  the police were 65 or older in 2015, and in Singapore there were 651 prisoners over 60 years old in 2016, double the number in 2012. In the UK, people aged 60 and over are the fastest growing age group in prison, constituting 14 per cent of the prison  population in 2016. Data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics in the US showed that there was a 250 per cent increase in federal and state prisoners aged 55 or older between 1999 and 2014.


All prison posts are kindly sponsored by Prison Consultants Limited who offer a complete service from arrest to release for anyone facing prison and their family. Prison Consultants have no editorial influence on the contents of this site.

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One Response

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