Rising prison population triggers overcrowding and COVID victims

Exit before Nelson Mandela International Day, celebrating perhaps the most famous political prisoner of all time, the world’s first research The data on prisons liberated by the UN, examined long-term trends in incarceration.

A shocking rise

As the world’s population grew by 21%, between 2000 and 2019, the number of prisoners worldwide jumped by more than 25%, according to the UNODC The data.

By the end of that period, 11.7 million people had been incarcerated – a population comparable in size to countries like Bolivia, Burundi, Belgium or Tunisia.

And at the end of 2019, the last year for full data to be available, there were around 152 prisoners per 100,000 people.

Break down the numbers

While North America, sub-Saharan Africa and Eastern Europe have seen long-term declines in prison rates of up to 27%, other regions and countries, such as America Latin America, Australia and New Zealand, have recorded up to 68% growth over the past two decades, the study found.

About 93% of prisoners worldwide are men.

However, during this period, the number of incarcerated women grew at a faster rate, increasing by 33%, compared to 25% for men.


As the guardian of the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, known as the Nelson Mandela Rules, UNODC also reviewed data on prison overcrowding.

Although rates vary widely by region, in about half of the countries for which data is available, prison systems are operating at more than 100% of their planned capacity.

COVID factor

the COVID-19[female[feminine The pandemic has radically shifted attention to the issue of prison overcrowding.

According to a global government and open source analysis, last May nearly 550,000 prisoners in 122 countries were infected with COVID-19.

And there have been nearly 4,000 deaths in prison, spread across 47 countries.

In response to the pandemic, some prisons have limited recess, work opportunities and visitation rights – all essential elements of rehabilitation programs.

With preventive measures often difficult to implement in detention centers, especially overcrowded ones, some countries have chosen to temporarily release large numbers of people in detention, especially those convicted of non-violent offenses.

As of March, around six percent of the estimated global prison population – which translates to at least 700,000 inmates – have been authorized or considered eligible for at least one temporary release through COVID emergency mechanisms adopted by 119 member states.

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