Figures reveal steep rise in numbers of women imprisoned around the world


The number of women and girls in prison around the world has jumped by more than half since the turn of the century, according to a new report.

Researchers calculate that more than 714,000 females are held in penal institutions, a 53% rise on the 466,000 estimated to be behind bars in 2000.

The number includes those on remand and awaiting trial as well as inmates who have been convicted and sentenced.

By comparison, the assessment finds the number of male prisoners globally has gone up by around a fifth (20%) over the same period.

Women and girls now make up 6.9% of the global prison population, says the study published by the Institute for Criminal Policy Research at Birkbeck, University of London.

The analysis, based on the latest available information at the end of September, puts the number of females locked up in the United Kingdom at around 4,400.

This number includes 3,974 in England and Wales, 51 in Northern Ireland and 360 in Scotland.

These were all up compared with 2000, when they stood at 3,350, 23 and 203 respectively, adding up to an overall rise of more than 800 since the start of the century.

The fourth edition of the World Female Imprisonment List says the female prison population has risen in all continents in the last 17 years.

It says: "In Africa the rise has been somewhat less than the increase in the general population of the continent and in Europe the increase in prisoner numbers has been similar to the general population increase.

"By contrast, rises in the female prison population in the Americas, in Asia and in Oceania have been respectively about three, four and five times the increases in the general population of those continents."

More than 200,000 female prisoners are in the US, followed by China (more than 107,000) the Russian Federation (48,478), Brazil (about 44,700), Thailand (41,119) and India (17,834), according to the report.

It also points to variations in trends seen since the last edition of the research was published two years ago.

The female prison population levels in Brazil, Indonesia, the Philippines and Turkey have risen sharply, while substantial falls have been recorded in Mexico, the Russian Federation, Thailand and Vietnam.

Roy Walmsley, director of the World Prison Brief at the Institute for Criminal Policy Research, said: "The surprisingly sharp rise over recent years in the number of women and girls in prison, the substantial variations in female imprisonment levels between neighbouring countries, between different regions and between different continents, and the fact that female imprisonment levels have been increasing at a very much faster rate than male imprisonment levels should prompt policy makers in all countries to consider whether it is really necessary to hold so many women and girls in custody.

"Female imprisonment has a high financial and social cost, and its excessive use does not contribute to public safety."