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Incarceration Rates By Country

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Behind Bars: A Look at Incarceration Rates By Country

Incarceration rates are a critical measure of a nation's criminal justice system, often reflecting not just the crime levels, but also the overall social and economic health. Around the globe, countries vary tremendously in their rates of imprisonment, reflecting the nuanced interplay between policies, social dynamics, and economic realities. 

Using the latest data, we delve into the state of incarceration worldwide with a particular focus on the United States. The United States, known for its high incarceration rates, houses approximately 629 prisoners per 100,000 people, the highest globally.

Key findings from the data include:

  • The United States tops the list with an incarceration rate of 629 per 100,000 population, followed by Rwanda (580), Turkmenistan (576), and El Salvador (564).
  • Countries in Latin America and the Caribbean also show high rates, with Cuba, Panama, and Brazil among the top 15. 
  • European nations typically exhibit lower rates of incarceration. For instance, Ireland's rate is 75 per 100,000, considerably below the global average.
  • Myth-busting the notion of ‘low crime equals low incarceration rate’, some of the safest countries globally like Iceland, have a fairly high incarceration rate (29 per 100,000). This suggests that incarceration rates are influenced by various factors beyond crime rates, including justice system attributes, societal norms, demographic characteristics, and policy decisions.
  • The Central African Republic has the lowest observed rate, with only 16 per 100,000 people incarcerated.

The incarceration rates globally tell us more than just the number of people behind bars in a given country. They provide insight into how nations approach crime, punishment, and social reform, offering a clear-cut mirror of a country's approach to social justice, law enforcement, and criminal policy. As we delve deeper into the state of incarceration worldwide, these data-driven insights are key to understanding and addressing the multi-faceted challenges of penology and criminal justice reform.

Countries With Highest Incarceration Rate

At the top of the list in incarceration rates in the world, per 100,000 population, interestingly is the United States, with a rate of 629. Following closely behind are Rwanda and Turkmenistan with rates of 580 and 576 respectively. El Salvador occupies the fourth position with a rate of 564, while Cuba features in at the fifth position with an incarceration rate of 510. Palau, with an incarceration rate of 478, and the British Virgin Islands, with a rate of 477, take the next two spots. Thailand's rate of 445 per 100,000 population puts it at the eighth position, while Panama and Saint Kitts and Nevis round out the top ten with respective rates of 434 and 423. 

10 Countries with the Highest Incarceration rates are:

  1. United States - 629 (Incarceration Rate per 100K)
  2. Rwanda - 580 (Incarceration Rate per 100K)
  3. Turkmenistan - 576 (Incarceration Rate per 100K)
  4. El Salvador - 564 (Incarceration Rate per 100K)
  5. Cuba - 510 (Incarceration Rate per 100K)
  6. Palau - 478 (Incarceration Rate per 100K)
  7. British Virgin Islands - 477 (Incarceration Rate per 100K)
  8. Thailand - 445 (Incarceration Rate per 100K)
  9. Panama - 434 (Incarceration Rate per 100K)
  10. Saint Kitts and Nevis - 423 (Incarceration Rate per 100K)

Countries With Lowest Incarceration Rate

The ten countries with the lowest incarceration rates are Central African Republic, Gambia, Republic of Congo, Iceland, DR Congo, Guinea, Liechtenstein, Guinea-Bissau, Nigeria, and Monaco. The Central African Republic reportedly has the lowest incarceration rate of 16 per 100,000 population. Following closely is The Gambia with an incarceration rate of 23 per 100,000 individuals. The Republic of Congo has an incarceration rate of 27 per 100,000, translating to the third lowest rate worldwide. Iceland and DR Congo share the fourth place, with an incarceration rate of 29 per 100,000. Guinea follows with a rate of 30 per 100,000 individuals. Liechtenstein and Guinea-Bissau both have the same incarceration rate of 31 per 100,000 population. Nigeria showcases an incarceration rate of 32 per 100,000 people, while Monaco, despite being one of the wealthiest nations globally, has an incarceration rate of 34 per 100,000. 

Countries With Lowest Incarceration Rates

  1. Central African Republic - 16 (Rate per 100k)
  2. Gambia - 23 (Rate per 100k)
  3. Republic of Congo - 27 (Rate per 100k)
  4. Iceland - 29 (Rate per 100k)
  5. DR Congo - 29 (Rate per 100k)
  6. Guinea - 30 (Rate per 100k)
  7. Liechtenstein - 31 (Rate per 100k)
  8. Guinea-Bissau - 31 (Rate per 100k)
  9. Nigeria - 32 (Rate per 100k)
  10. Monaco - 34 (Rate per 100k)

By Country

Full Data Set

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