Irish Penal Reform Trust

World Female Imprisonment List 2017

9th November 2017

On the 9th November2017, the Institute for Criminal Policy Research (ICPR) published the fourth edition of the World Female Imprisonment List 2017, showing that more than 714,000 girls and women are being held in penal institutions in 221 prison systems across the world. This figure is not the full total due to the fact that figures are not available from Cuba, Eritrea, North Korea, Somalia and Uzbekistan, and figures from China are not complete, therefore, the full total would be even higher.

ICPR have compiled a comprehensive analysis of the most accurate figures that they obtained since the end of September 2017. The figures include girls and women in pre-trial and remand, which accounts for detention of girls and women in different stages of the criminal justice system; pre-trial stage, held during the court proceedings, when convicted but not yet sentenced, and when sentenced.

The World Female Imprisonment List 2017 compiled information on independent states and dependent territories, and provides the information on the total population of female prisoners in the penal institutions, the date in which the information was gathered, the percentage of girls and women within the total prison population, the estimated national population, and the number of female prisoners per 100,000 of the national population. 

This World Female Imprisonment List 2017 provides invaluable information to penal systems. By comparing the figures to previous years, the World Female Imprisonment List 2017 shows that that the number of women and girls in prisons worldwide has continued to increase at concerning rates. Female imprisonment has risen by 2% from 2015, and by 53.3% since 2000. The Report explains that the increase in female prisoners cannot be correlated with the global population growth, or the increase in male prison population, as these populations rose by 21%, and 20% respectively, since 2000.

When comparing these average figures to the increase of female prisoner population in Ireland we see that from 2000 to 2015 the female prisoner population in Ireland increased from 84 prisoners to 127 prisoners, an increase of 51.2%, which is near to the global average. However, unfortunately, the female prisoner population rose again in Ireland in 2017 to 136, which is an increase of around 62% since 2000, and this is clearly above the global average of 53.3%.

From the four World Female Imprisonment Lists, it is interesting the see the progression of the percentage of women and girls within the total prison population in Europe. In the World Female Imprisonment List 2006, and the World Female Imprisonment List 2012, the median percentage of female prisoners within the total population can be seen to have increased from 4.4% to 4.9%. The World Female Imprisonment List 2015 showed that that the median percentage remained at 4.9%, however, it is distressing to see that in the recent World Female Imprisonment List 2017, this median percentage rose significantly to 6.1%. 

Female offenders have complex needs due to the fact that these women tend to come from disadvantaged economic backgrounds, with limited access to education and high unemployment rates, and often suffer from a drug addiction and/or mental illness. A high proportion of female offenders are mothers, and often have caring commitments towards family members. Due to these factors, imprisonment is not an effective response to women, and even short-term imprisonment can have a disproportionate impact on women and their families. 

IPRT advocates for the need for gender-specific alternatives to prison for women, such as community service schemes.

  • See more World Prison Brief Prison Population Lists here.
  • See IPRT's Submission to the CEDAW Committee, January 2017 here, and IPRT's Position Paper, Women in the Criminal Justice System, November 2013 here.

Respect for rights in the penal system with prison as a last resort.



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