More than 10.2 million prisoners in the world, new ICPS report shows

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16 Oct 2013
More than 10.2 million people are held in penal institutions throughout the world according to the latest edition of the World Prison Population List (WPPL), researched and compiled by Roy Walmsley and published on Friday 22 November by the International Centre for Prison Studies, a partner of the University of Essex. If those reported to be held in ‘detention centres’ in China and prison camps in North Korea were included the total would be more than 11 million. 

The report can be downloaded here

The WPPL provides up-to-date information on the global prison population and the rate per 100,000 of the national population (the prison population rate)in 222 countries and territories. 

Figures are unavailable for only four countries – Eritrea, Guinea Bissau, North Korea and Somalia. 
Dr Peter Bennett, Director of the International Centre for Prison Studies commented: 

It is of grave concern that there are now over 10.2 million men, women and children held in penal institutions throughout the world. What is of graver concern is that the world prison population continues to rise, despite the fact that imprisonment is a highly expensive option for governments, as well as being inappropriate and ineffective for the majority of prisoners who come from minority and marginalised groups, or who are mentally ill or who are alcohol and drug abusers. 

The International Centre for Prison Studies calls on those governments with high or rising rates of imprisonment to reduce their prison populations and to seek alternatives to custody in the interests of good economy, effectiveness in sentencing and the achievement of internationally agreed standards.

*   Almost half of the world's prisoners are in the United States (2.24 million), China (1.64 million sentenced prisoners), or Russia (0.68 million) - countries 
which account for just over a quarter of the world's population. 
* The United States' prison total constitutes a rate of 716 per 100,000 of the national population, making it pro rata by far the biggest user of prison in the world. 
More than half of the countries and territories (54%) have rates below 150 per 100,000. The overall world prison population rate (based on 10.2 million prisoners and a world population of 7.1 billion) is 144 per 100,000. 
*  With a prison population rate of 148 per 100,000, England and Wales lock up more prisoners per head of population than other countries in western Europe and over 50% more than countries such as France, Germany, Ireland and the Netherlands. Scotland and Spain have rates of 147.
* The report also found that the rise in prison populations is evident in every continent. In the 15 years since the first edition of the World Prison Population List the estimated world prison population has increased by some 25-30%. However, at the same time the world population has risen by over 20%. 
The world prison population rate has risen by about 6% from 136 per 100,000 of the world population to the current rate of 144. 
* The list shows that rates vary considerably between different regions of the world, and between different parts of the same continent. For example: 
-  AFRICA: the median rate for western African countries is 46 per 100,000 whereas for southern African countries it is 205.
-  THE AMERICAS: the median rate for south American countries is 202 whereas for Caribbean countries it is 376.
-  ASIA: the median rate for south central Asian countries (mainly the Indian sub-continent) is 62 whereas for central Asian countries it is 159.5.
-  EUROPE: the median rate for western European countries is 98 whereas for the countries spanning Europe and Asia (e.g. Russia and Turkey) it is 225.
-  OCEANIA (including Australia and New Zealand): the median rate is 151. 
This tenth edition of the World Prison Population List was researched and compiled by Roy Walmsley, who introduced the first edition at the beginning of 1999. 
He is a consultant to the United Nations and Director of the World Prison Brief - the online database of information on the prison systems of the world - which is part of the ICPS website and can be found at