More than three million people are held in pre-trial detention and other forms of remand imprisonment worldwide
- There are considerable differences between the continents and between individual countries in trends in pre-trial/remand levels since 2000.
- Numbers of pre-trial detainees have grown rapidly in the Americas, Asia and Oceania – far outstripping general population growth in these three continents.
- Since about the year 2000, the number of people in pre-trial/remand imprisonment has grown by more than 30%; 5% higher than the growth in the world’s general population since that time.
(London, UK, April 2nd 2020): Well over three million people are held in pre-trial detention and other forms of remand imprisonment throughout the world, according to the latest edition of the World Pre-trial/Remand Imprisonment List (WPTRIL), published today by the Institute for Crime & Justice Policy Research at Birkbeck, University of London.
The List is available here
Prisoners in pre-trial detention or remand (‘pre-trial detainees’) are those who, in connection with an alleged offence or offences, are deprived of liberty following a judicial or other legal process but have not been definitively sentenced. More than 2.9 million pre-trial detainees are held in 217 countries. Taking account of the more than 200,000 such prisoners believed to be held in China, detainees omitted from national totals in some countries because they are held in police facilities at the pre-court stage, and those held in the other eight countries on which official information is not available, the overall total will be well over three million.
The total number of pre-trial detainees worldwide includes more than 482,000 in the United States, 323,000 in India, 253,000 in Brazil, 141,000 in the Philippines, 100,000 in Turkey, 96,000 in Russia, 79,000 in Mexico, 71,000 in Bangladesh, 64,000 in Indonesia and 60,000 in Thailand. In about half of all countries in Africa and southern Asia, more than 40% of the prison population are pre-trial detainees. The countries with the highest proportion of the total prison population in pre-trial/remand imprisonment, excluding two countries with very small national populations, are: Libya (90%), Bangladesh (81%), Gabon (80%), Paraguay (77%), Benin (76%), Haiti and the Philippines (both 75%).
Catherine Heard, Director of the World Prison Research Programme at the Institute for Crime & Justice Policy Research, commented:
“All over the world pre-trial detainees are being held for months or years in prison, waiting for their cases to reach trial or final sentence. The needless use of pre-trial imprisonment carries huge social and human costs, not least the public health risks presented by today’s atrocious levels of prison overcrowding in much of the world. There are cheaper, less restrictive ways of ensuring that people turn up to court. Governments serious about safety and justice must now prioritize their use.”
There are considerable differences between the continents and between individual countries in trends in pre-trial/remand levels since 2000:
- The African total has fallen by 3%, mainly due to the very large number of pre-trial detainees in Rwanda in 2000, following the genocide of 1994, and the subsequent fall in numbers as the cases were resolved. If the Rwanda figures are omitted the African total has risen by 27%.
- The total in the Americas has increased by over 60%, with numbers more than doubling in El Salvador, Guatemala, Brazil, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, Venezuela and some smaller countries.
- The total in Asia has increased by 72%, with numbers rising particularly dramatically in Cambodia, trebling in Indonesia, Israel and Jordan and doubling in Malaysia and the Philippines. By contrast the number of pre-trial detainees has fallen by 68% in Kazakhstan.
- The total in Europe has fallen by 28%, mainly due to the substantial fall in the Russian Federation (58%) and large falls also in the Baltic states and in the Czech Republic, Moldova, Poland and Romania. If the Russian figures are omitted, the European total is similar to the total in about 2000.
- The total in the countries of Oceania has increased by 225%, due to the more than trebling of the numbers in pre-trial/remand imprisonment in both Australia and New Zealand.
In short, numbers of pre-trial detainees have grown rapidly in the Americas, Asia and Oceania – far outstripping general population growth in these three continents. By contrast, Africa (excluding Rwanda) has seen a rise in the pre-trial/remand population which is less than half that of the growth in the general population.
Since about the year 2000, the number of people in pre-trial/remand imprisonment has grown by more than 30%. This is 5% higher than the growth in the world’s general population since that time. The substantial falls since about 2000 in the pre-trial detainee numbers in Rwanda and the Russian Federation have had a large effect on the change in the global pre-trial detention population. If these countries are omitted from the calculation, the pre-trial/remand imprisonment total in the rest of the world has grown by 49%.
Roy Walmsley, compiler of the World Prison Population List, said:
“It is of great concern that there are now well over three million people held in pre-trial/remand imprisonment throughout the world. It is particularly noticeable that pre-trial detainees constitute so high a proportion of the prison population in much of Africa and southern Asia. Also striking is the growth since 2000 in numbers of pre-trial detainees in the Americas, some south eastern Asia countries and Australia and New Zealand. Policy-makers worldwide should do more to ensure that pre-trial/remand imprisonment is used as an absolute last resort.”
 Bhutan, Cuba, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Maldives, North Korea, Northern Mariana Is. and Somalia.
 San Marino (83%) and Liechtenstein (75%).