There is a certain fascination for prison worlds, as has been demonstrated by hugely successful films such as Escape from Alcatraz and The Shawshank Redemption set in high-security jails. However, a glimpse into the lives of real-life prisoners is a relatively rare opportunity.
Currently, over 10.2 million people are being held in prisons throughout the world. However, these are not evenly spread out with certain countries incarcerating far more than others. The average world incarceration rate is 144 per 100, 000 people. However, more than half of the countries and territories in the world have rates of under 150 per 100, 000, revealing a concentration of prisoners in certain key nations. This leads us to question whether these countries' incarceration rates correspond to higher crime rates, or whether these soaring imprisonment statistics are caused by stricter penal policies.
The following list ranks countries from lowest to highest according to their incarceration rates proportional to 100, 000 of the national population, using data collected by the International Centre for Prison Studies in 2013. The list accounts for the number of prisoners held in 222 independent countries and dependent territories.
Glimpsing into the prison world is intriguing, but always disturbing. Indeed some of the countries that incarcerate the most also see their inmates living in the most deplorable conditions; many of these nations likely have questions of policy to answer to, but also serious questions surrounding human rights.
10 Russian Federation - 475
9 Belize - 476
8 Anguilla (UK) - 487
7 Rwanda - 492
6 Cuba - 510
5 Barbados - 521
4 United States Virgin Isles - 539
3 Seychelles - 709
2 St Kitts and Nevis - 714
1 The United States - 716
With a current total of 2, 239, 751 criminals behind bars, the United States of America has the highest incarceration rate in the world. Whether it's due to the legalisation of weapons or the inordinately strict penal code is a topic of heated debate among social and political commentators. Despite representing just 5% of the world's population, the United States holds a full 25% of all the world's prisoners. Whilst this may mean the US streets are safer, it is also a huge and perhaps unnecessary expense to the government. Indeed, imprisonment of Americans costs a shocking $24, 000 per inmate per year on average (although this varies between states) and $5.1 billion in building new prison facilities, thus consuming $60.3 billion in budget expenditures - amassing huge controversy among taxpayers.
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