World female prison population up by 60% since 2000

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19 Oct 2022
Image is a screenshot of the first page of the World Female Imprisonment List


Prison population data reveal a much faster growth in female than male prisoner numbers since the year 2000. While the number of women and girls in prison has grown by almost 60%, the male prison population increased by around 22%.

This fifth edition of the World Female Imprisonment List, by Helen Fair and Roy Walmsley, shows that more than 740,000 women and girls are in prison globally.

The List can be downloaded here 

The List is published by the Institute for Crime & Justice Policy Research (ICPR) at Birkbeck, University of London. The List provides information on the number and percentage of female prisoners in almost all countries across world. It also includes information about trends in female imprisonment in countries and regions and by continent.


The key findings from the report are:

More than 200,000 female prisoners are in the United States of America (about 211,375). The countries with the next highest totals are China (145,000 plus an unknown number of women and girls in pre-trial detention and ‘administrative detention’), Brazil (42,694), Russia (39,120) and Thailand (32,952).

The countries with the highest female prison population rate – that is, the number of female prisoners per 100,000 of the national population – are the USA (64), Thailand (47), El Salvador (42), Turkmenistan (38), and Brunei Darussalam (36). In both Asia and Oceania, the total number of female prisoners has more than doubled since 2000. Europe, in contrast, has seen a fall (of 13%) in the female prison population.

The number of women and girls in prison has risen particularly sharply in some countries since around 2000; notably in:

  • Cambodia – there are more than nine times as many female prisoners today than in 2000
  • Indonesia – more than seven and a half times
  • El Salvador – more than seven times
  • Guatemala – more than six times
  • Brazil – four times.

Women and girls make up 6.9% of the global prison population. In African countries, the proportion of female prisoners is 3.3%, compared to 5.9% in Europe, 6.7% in Oceania, 7.2% in Asia, and 8.0% in the Americas. In 17 jurisdictions around the world, women and girls make up more than 10% of the prison population. Those with the highest proportions of female prisoners (excluding some very small jurisdictions) are Hong Kong-China (19.7%), Qatar (14.7%), Macau-China (14.1%), Laos (13.7%), Myanmar (12.3%), Vietnam (12.1%), Brunei Darussalam (11.9%), and the United Arab Emirates (11.7%).

Compiler of the World Female Imprisonment List, Helen Fair, comments:

The sustained and substantial rise in the numbers of women and girls in prison across much of the world is a cause of profound concern. It has long been recognised that most female prisoners are extremely vulnerable – with histories of poverty, mental illness and sexual and physical victimisation. Their incarceration makes little contribution to public safety, while imposing high financial and social costs. It is our hope that the data starkly presented in this World Female Imprisonment List will support and strengthen reformers’ calls to bring an end to unnecessary, damaging imprisonment of women and girls.

Catherine Heard, Director of ICPR’s World Prison Research Programme, comments:

It is deeply troubling that the number of women and girls imprisoned worldwide has risen so dramatically in just two decades, far outstripping the rate of increase in male prisoner numbers. Huge increases have been seen in developed and less developed countries alike, with poverty, structural inequality, and the failed war on drugs the key underlying factors. Incarcerating more women for longer does nothing to address social injustice, simply causing further harm to those incarcerated, their families and communities.