World map showing number of prisoners
per 100,000 citizens.
is the detention of a person in
are most commonly incarcerated upon suspicion or conviction of
committing a crime
. Incarceration rates, when
measured by the United Nations, are considered distinct and
separate from the imprisonment of political prisoners
and others not
charged with a specific crime. Historically, the frequency of
imprisonment, its duration, and severity have varied considerably.
There has also been much debate about the motives for
incarceration, its effectiveness and fairness, as well as debate
regarding the related questions about the nature and etiology
Wilkenson (2004) notes that overall heterogeneity of a society may
provide a meta-explanation for the variance in incarceration rates:
There may be a multi-directional causality where close-knit
societies are least likely to offend against one another. Knowing
ones' neighbors may hence bridge econometric explanations across
communities. Or put another way, except perhaps for crimes of
passion, people do not offend against people they know well.
and justice studies emphasize
description and analysis of antecedents of criminal behavior and
outcomes of consequences imposed by criminal justice on the
criminal behavior. An example of a modern quantitative study of
factors influencing the criminal behavior is the study by Krus and
In the study by Krus and Hoehl, variables that might explain
differences in incarceration rates among populations were located
by a computer-aided search of the compendium of world rankings,
compiled by the Facts on File
Corporation and the World Model Group, containing over 50,000
records on more than 200 countries.
They argued that predictor variables explained about 69% of
variance in the international incarceration rates. Cited as
especially important were unequal distribution of wealth (the
explanation perhaps favored by liberals
and family disintegration (the explanation perhaps favored by
). According to Krus and
Hoehl, these variables act in concert: the presence of one variable
does not always precipitate crime, but the presence of both
variables often does precipitate crime.
Incarceration rates by country
Incarceration rates of selected
In many countries, it is common for prisoners to be paroled after
serving as little as one third of their sentences.
the incarceration rate in China was 111 per
100,000 in 2001 (sentenced prisoners only), although this figure is
highly disputed in the West.
Chinese human rights activist
, now an American citizen, who
spent 19 years in forced-labor camps for criticizing the
government, alleging that 16 to 20 million of his countrymen are
incarcerated, including common criminals, political prisoners, and
people in involuntary job placements. Even ten million prisoners
would mean a rate of 793 per 100,000.
Denmark also has a
low incarceration rate with a total of 3774 inmates in the
Denmark has 59 people in prison for every 100,000
citizens. 62 violent crimes such as rape, murder, robbery, and
were reported. There were
322 Property Crimes reported.
England and Wales
the incarceration rate in England and Wales is 139
persons imprisoned per 100,000 residents, while in Norway it is 59
inmates per 100,000, whilst the Australian imprisonment rate is 163
prisoners per 100,000 residents, and the rate of imprisonment in
New Zealand last year was 179 per 100,000.
India has one of
the lowest incarceration rates with only 281,000 prisoners in their
This is just a fraction of their total population,
1,129,866,154. India reported 1,764,630 crimes in 2007. There were
236,313 assaults and 111,296 burglaries
Ireland has the
lowest prison population with 3417 prisoners
The independent EU survey of crime confirmed
that Ireland's crime rate is one of the highest in the EU with
almost one in four people saying they have been a victim of crime.
Ireland received 101 reports of homicide
2003. Also reported were 4763 cases of assault and 2463 sexual
States' incarceration rate
is, according to official reports,
the highest in the world, at 737 persons imprisoned per 100,000 (as
of 2005). A report released in 2008 indicates that in the United
States more than 1 in 100 adults is now confined in an American
jail or prison. The United States has 5% of the world's population
and 25% of the world's incarcerated population.
In the U.S., most states strictly limit parole
, requiring that at least half of a sentence be
served. For certain heinous crimes, there is no parole and the full
sentence must be served.
Conditions of incarceration
Severe punishments (such as beatings, prolonged sleep deprivation,
sensory deprivation, chaining) have been often inflicted on
prisoners. There are many reasons given for justification of such
punishment. In the 16th century, the Bishop of Trier
, in his Tractatus de
(1596) claimed that
- : since the sinfulness of the world increases, God also
allows increasing the severity of punishments.
A movement to abolish cruel treatment of prisoners began during the
Age of Enlightenment
continued throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. However, there
have been continual arguments for severe punishments, perhaps
increasing somewhat in the early years of the 21st century.
Contemporary justifications for such punishment often revolve
around the "rights of the victims". Often underlying these
perspectives are opinions that stress the vindictive
eye-for-the-eye notions of the Old
and Qur'an , over the notion that the primary goal of
incarceration should be the reform and reeducation of prisoners to
facilitate their re-integration into society.
Within the framework of penology
, the trend
toward increasing the severity of punishments is reflected in
publications such as Block's (1997, p. 12) advocacy of policy
initiatives aimed at increasing the unpleasantness of prison life
that would likely be "a cost-effective method of fighting
1996 book claiming that the increase in the severity of treatment
of prisoners will result in decrease in recidivism
. Arpaio and Sherman proposed to
increase the severity of imprisonment by the construction of tent
prison camps in the Mojave Desert
where summer temperatures reach 120 degrees Fahrenheit, by serving
prisoners foul-tasting food, by humiliating prisoners by
cross-dressing, and by reinstatement of the chain gangs
. Mauer (1999, pp. 92–93)
documents some other the measures used to implement the
increasing the unpleasantness of prison life
include shooting around prisoners to keep them moving, forced
consumption of milk of magnesia, placing naked inmates in strip
and handcuffing inmates for long periods of time.
Incarceration and torture
As noted above, cruel treatment has long been a feature of
incarceration. Taken to extremes, such treatment might be described
Torture has, for much of history, been seen as a tolerable or even
necessary component of imprisonment, whether performed as punishment
or as part of interrogation
. Recent controversial cases described by
critics as torture of incarcerated persons include the Abu Ghraib military
prison in Iraq and the
Guantanamo Bay, Cuba
- Human Development Report 2007/2008 - Prison population
(per 100,000 people). United Nations Development
Prison Population List. 7th edition. By Roy Walmsley. Published
in 2007. International
Centre for Prison Studies. School of Law, King's
College London. For editions 1 through 7: .
- World Prison Brief - Highest to Lowest Figures.
International Centre for
Prison Studies. School of Law, King's
College London. Compare many nations. Select from menu: prison
population total, prison population rate, percentage of pre-trial
detainees / remand prisoners within the prison population,
percentage of female prisoners within the prison population,
percentage of foreign prisoners within the prison population and
- Human Development Report 2007/2008 - Prison population
(per 100,000 people). UNDP (United Nations Development
Programme), using data from the World Prison Population
- This sentence is copied verbatim from
- World Prison Population List by Roy
- NationMaster - Indian Crime statistics
- An Garda Síochána Annual
- One in 100: Behand Bars in America
Abdullah (2006, http://www.beliefnet.com ) in Demystifying
Muslim Justice observes that " most Americans' impression of
Islamic justice is a rather barbaric image of retribution harshly
and violently administered. Ask even educated Americans to explain
the law in Muslim countries, and they'll inevitably talk about
hands and heads summarily being severed. In fact, Islamic justice
shares much with Christianity and Judaism. These similarities are
not surprising, considering that our penal systems are influenced
by common scriptural foundations. The Qur'an's most basic passage
pertaining to punishment is a familiar one to Christians and Jews
alike: "And We prescribed for them therein: The life for the life,
and the eye for the eye, and the nose for the nose, and the ear for
the ear, and the tooth for the tooth, and for wounds equality."
That said, even in Talmudic times, this was never intended for Jews
to be taken literally, and has always been interpreted by the
Rabbis to indicate that appropriate compensation be paid in the
form of money.
- The opinion that increasing the severity of punishments will
result in decrease of recidivism is not supported by some
metastudies of this issue. Contrary to this popular opinion, the
majority of research studies indicates that penal policies
stressing rehabilitation over punishment result in lower recidivism
rates. Most empirical studies consistently find that the employment
status after the release from prison is the strongest predictor of
recidivism. Thus, e.g., Pennsylvania's 2000 Legislative Report
on Recidivism concludes that "most studies found that boot
camps have not been very successful in achieving the goal of
reducing crime" and that the fact that "employed offenders
are almost three times as likely to succeed indicates that
providing vocational training and employment opportunities for
offenders should be a high priority."
- ABC News/Washington Post poll (2004). Conducted by TNS of
Horsham, Pa, on a random national sample of 1,005 adults with a
three-point error margin.
- Arpaio, J. and Sherman, L. (1996)
How to win the war against crime. Arlington: The Summit
- Binsfeld, P. (1596) Tractatus de confessionibus maleficorum
et sagarum. Trier, Germany: Heinrich Bock.
- Block, M. K. (1997) Supply side imprisonment policy.
Washington: National Institute of Justice.
- Beccaria, C. (1764)
An essay on crimes and punishments. New York: Gould &
Van Winkle, 1809.
- Daneau, L. (1564) Les
Sorciers, dialogue très utile et très necessaire pour ce
temps. In Levack, B. (1992) The literature of witchcraft:
articles on witchcraft, magic, and demonology. Garland. ISBN
- Geiler, J. (1508) Die Emeis. Strassburg: Johann
- Kurian, G.T. (1991) The New Book of World Rankings.
New York: Facts on File, Inc.
- Krus, D.J. (1999) Die Harte des Strafvollzugs: Entbindung in
Ketten. Zeitschrift fur Sozialpsychologie und Gruppendynamik in
Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft, 24Jg/Heft 4, S.12-16 (Request reprint in English, in German).
- Krus, D. J., & Hoehl, L .S. (1994) Issues associated with
international incarceration rates. Psychological Reports,
75, 1491-1495 (Request reprint).
- Mauer, M. (1991) American Behind Bars: A Comparison of
International Rates of Incarceration. Washington, D.C.: The
- Mauer, M. (1999) Race to incarcerate. New York: The
- Mǖllendorf, P. (1911) Geschichte der Spanischen
Inquisition. Leipzig, Germany.
- Rhyne, C. E., Templer, D. I., Brown, L. G., & Peters, N. B.
(1995) Dimensions of suicide: perceptions of lethality, time, and
agony. Suicide & Life Threatening Behavior, 25(3),
- Sindelar, B. (1986) Hon na carodejnice v zapadni a stredni
Evrope v 16.-17.stoleti. Prague: Nakladatelstvi Svoboda.