Roy Walmsley, Director of the World Prison Brief, participated in a recent colloquium on female imprisonment, under the auspices of the International Penal and Penitentiary Foundation (IPPF), of which he is a member. He presented a paper on Variations and Growth in the Levels of Female Imprisonment, which will be published by IPPF, together with the other proceedings of the colloquium, in 2015. The main variations and growth to which he drew attention are these:
Variations and growth in the levels of female imprisonment
(Roy Walmsley, IPPF colloquium, Bangkok, 3-6 March 2014)
1. On the basis of figures up to the beginning of 2013 there are more than 660,000 women in prison throughout the world.
The prevalence of women within the total prison population
2. About 6.5% of the world’s prisoners are women and in most prison systems women constitute between 2 and 9% of the total prison population.
3. The prevalence of women within the total prison population is lowest in African countries and the highest levels are in Asia, especially South-eastern and Eastern Asia.
Women prisoners as a proportion of the general population (female prison population rate)
4. When considering all prisoners, male and female, the prison population rate for the world is about 144 per 100,000 of the world’s population. Between 9 and 10 of the 144 are women.
5. The lowest levels are in Africa, and Europe too has levels below average, except in Central and Eastern Europe, especially the countries of the former Soviet Union. Levels in the Americas are above average, as they are in South-eastern and Eastern Asia.
Changes in the level of female imprisonment
6. The number of women in prison has increased, between about 2000 and the beginning of 2013, by over 40%. This cannot be explained away in terms of the growth in national population levels. U.N. figures for the world population indicate that this has risen only by 16% in the same period.
7. The female prison population has risen much more sharply than the overall world prison population. Over a slightly longer period, the overall prison population rose by between 25 and 30% compared with the rise of over 40% in the female prison population.
8. Between about 2000 and the beginning of 2013, the number of women in prison in Africa has risen by less than half the growth in the continent’s population, but in all other continents the increase has been several times greater than the growth in the population of the continent.
9. The prevalence of women within the total prison population has grown sharply. On the basis of figures up to the beginning of 2013, about 6.5% of the world’s prisoners are women. In about 2000 the figure was about 5.3%. This represents an increase of more than a fifth.
10. The female prison population rate (per 100,000 of the general population) has grown by a similar amount. It is calculated as 9.3 using figures up to the beginning of 2013. Figures for 2000 or the years adjacent indicate a rate then of 7.6 per 100,000, which also implies an increase of more than a fifth. By contrast, over a slightly longer period the male prison population rate rose by only about 4%.