[Pnews] States of Women's Incarceration: The Global Context
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Thu Oct 19 16:46:33 EDT 2017
States of Women's Incarceration: The Global Context
By Aleks Kajstura
<https://www.prisonpolicy.org/staff.html#kajstura> and Russ Immarigeon
We already know that when it comes to incarceration, the United States
is truly exceptional. As we have reported previously
<https://www.prisonpolicy.org/global/>, the United States incarcerates
716 people for every 100,000 residents, more than any other country.
Worldwide, and within the U.S., the vast majority of those incarcerated
are men. As a result, women's incarceration rates are overshadowed and
often lost in the data. As a first step in documenting how women fare in
the world's carceral landscape, this report compares the incarceration
rates for women of each U.S. state with the equivalent rates for
countries around the world.
Outpacing the world
Only 5% of the world's female population lives in the U.S., but the U.S.
accounts for nearly 30% of the world's incarcerated women.
/*World Women's Incarceration Rates If Every U.S. State Were A Country
(Graphic Insert - https://www.prisonpolicy.org/global/women/)*/
Across the globe, the 25 jurisdictions with the highest rates of
incarcerating women are all American states. Thailand, at number 26, is
the first non-U.S. government to appear on this high-end list, followed
closely at number 27 by the Unites States itself. The next 17
jurisdictions are also American states.
Overall, with the exception of Thailand and the U.S. itself, the top 44
jurisdictions throughout the world with the highest rate of
incarcerating women are individual American states.
Nearly 30% of the world's incarcerated women are in the United States,
twice the percentage as in China and four times as much as in Russia.
Putting U.S. states in a global context is sobering; even the U.S.
states that have comparatively low rates of incarceration far
out-incarcerate the majority of the world.
Illinois' incarceration rate for women is on par with El Salvador, where
abortion is illegal and women are routinely jailed for having
miscarriages <http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-24532694>. New Hampshire
is on par with Russia, and New York with Rwanda.
Rhode Island, which has the lowest incarceration rate for women in the
U.S., would have the 15^th highest incarceration rate in the world if it
were a country. In other words, only 14 countries (not including the
United States) incarcerate women at a higher rate than Rhode Island, the
U.S. state that incarcerates women at the lowest rate of imprisonment.
Outpacing our peers
As we report, the United States incarcerates women at a rate similar
only to Thailand. But looking instead to our international peers,
exactly how does the U.S. measure up with other nations?
For comparison we use some of our closest allies, the founding countries
of the North American Treaty Organization (NATO). These NATO countries
incarcerate women at a rate eight to twenty-five times lower than the
United States as a whole:Graph showing that the United States
incarcerates women at higher rates than other NATO-founding countries.
The U.S. incarcerates women at a rate of 127 per 100,000, Portugal at
16, United Kingdom at 13, Canada at 11, Luxemburg and Belgium at 9,
Norway and the Netherlands at 8, Italy at 7, France at 6, and Denmark at
As we have noted, Rhode Island has the lowest women's incarceration rate
in the U.S., but it still has a rate more than twice that of Portugal,
which has the second highest rate of incarcerating women among founding
NATO nations. Nationally, the U.S. incarcerates women at a rate eight
times higher than Portugal.
Graph showing rate of women's incarceration in the U.S. between 1910 and
2014. The rate remains mostly below 20 per 100,000 before climbing
sharply after 1980, settling well above 120 in the current century.
United States’ incarceration rate for women is currently more than eight
times higher than it was throughout most of the 20^th century.
In the U.S., we are not only incarcerating women far more than nearly
all other nations, but we are also incarcerating women far more than we
have done in the recent past. The sudden growth of incarceration in our
country has been staggering; our incarceration rate nearly tripled
between 1980 and 1990.
Our own history demonstrates that high rates of incarceration are not an
essential part of American policy; rather they are the outcomes of a
series of now regrettable policy choices by federal, state and local
officials in the last three decades.
Currently prisons and jails in the U.S. confine approximately 206,000
women (at a rate of 127 per 100,000). Within the U.S., it is commonly
noted that women are incarcerated far less frequently than men, but
comparing women's incarceration rate to that for men paints a falsely
optimistic picture. When compared to jurisdictions across the globe,
even the U.S. states with the lowest levels of incarceration are far out
The statistics revealed by this report are simple and staggering. They
suggest that states cannot remain complacent about how many women they
incarcerate. Women should be a mainstay of any state policy discussions
on the economical and effective use of incarceration if we hope to
incarcerate fewer women.
About the data
This report compares the prevalence of incarceration in individual U.S.
states with other countries, and therefore brings together data on the
number of women incarcerated in states and countries as a portion of the
states' or countries' total female populations. This report also puts
together several different datasets to show the growth of the
incarceration rate for women in the United States over time.
/U.S. State data:/
We choose to use U.S. Census data because we wanted to be sure to
include all the forms of incarceration in the United States. (The Bureau
of Justice Statistics has not published state-level estimates of the
U.S. jail population — which makes up 30% of the total mass
incarceration pie <https://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/pie.html> —
since 2006.) We used U.S. Census 2010 data
that shows the total number of people in each state who are confined in
local, state, and federal adult correctional facilities. The women's
population was calculated by aggregating female population reported for
all age groups in these adult correctional facilities.
This powerful census dataset comes with one quirk worth discussing: the
Census Bureau counts incarcerated people as if they were residents of
prison locations rather than their home communities. In the case of
state prison systems that send a large number of people to prisons in
other states, or in the context of federal prisons, this Census Bureau
residence determination can influence a state's incarceration rate
calculated with that data. A significant portion of West Virginia (61%),
Connecticut (51%) and Minnesota's (43%) female prison population appear
to be women in federal facilities located within the state's borders. We
did not attempt to factor out these populations for two reasons. First,
as a practical matter, systematically disentangling the Census Bureau's
reported incarcerated populations into discrete jurisdictional
categories is impractical. And secondly, federal prisons are not sited
randomly; states which host federal prisons are active partners in
The women's incarceration rate for each country was calculated using two
incarceration datasets from the Institute for Criminal Policy Research
and population data from the United Nations and other sources.
The number of women incarcerated in each country was calculated based on
the Institute for Criminal Policy Research's World Prison Brief's
Highest to Lowest - Female prisoners (percentage of prison population)
which provided the percentage of each country's incarcerated population
that is female, and the corresponding list of incarcerated population
totals for each country
(For some countries, the World Prison Brief includes some number of
girls in the numbers of incarcerated women.)
For most countries' women's population we relied on the United Nations'
World Population Prospects: The 2015 Revision, Total Population - Female
file <http://esa.un.org/unpd/wpp/DVD/>. For Taiwan and countries within
the United Kingdom, the UN's World Population Prospects and the ICPR's
World Prison Brief were incompatible, so we relied on individual country
censuses for female population totals for each jurisdiction. We used
Taiwan's 2010 Census
<http://ebas1.ebas.gov.tw/phc2010/english/rehome.htm>, and for the
United Kingdom, England & Wales
2011, Table DC1117SC).
We were unable to calculate the rate of incarceration for women in four
jurisdictions within the former Yugoslavia. The World Prison Brief
publishes incarceration data separately for Serbia and Kosovo, and
Bosnia and Herzegovina: Federation and Bosnia and Herzegovina: Republika
Srpska separately, but reliable female population counts are only
available for each pair of jurisdictions combined, so we could not
calculate an incarceration rate.
Finally, to make the comparisons in this report more meaningful, we've
chosen to only include nations with a total population of at least
250,000 women. For that reason, Iceland, which is also one of the
original NATO founders, is not included in the NATO graph, or the full
list above. For those interested, Iceland's incarceration rate is lowest
among the NATO founders, at 3 per 100,000.
/U.S. historical data:/
The historical graph was calculated using different datasets that
included women in all types of correctional facilities (including jails)
and the total U.S. women's population for the corresponding year.
Historical data for the number of women incarcerated in prisons 1910 and
1923 was calculated based on incarceration data from the Bureau of
Justice Statistics' Historical Corrections Statistics in the United
<http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/hcsus5084.pdf#page=80> (Table 3-31.
Characteristics of Persons in State and Federal Prisons). The data for
1933 through 1970 came from Bureau of Justice Statistics' State and
Federal Prisoners, 1925-85
<http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/sfp2585.pdf#page=2> (Table 1.
Sentenced prisoners in State and Federal institutions: Number and
incarceration rates, 1925-85). And data for 1980 through 2014 came from
the Bureau of Justice Statistics' National Prisoner Statistics Program,
Sentenced female prisoners under the jurisdiction of state or federal
correctional authorities, December 31, 1978-2014
The historical numbers of women incarcerated in jails is also based on
multiple sources. For 1910 through 1980 and 1982 we calculated the
number of women incarcerated in jails based on Bureau of Justice
Statistics' Historical Corrections Statistics in the United States,
(Table 4-15. Characteristics of Persons in Jails). (We were unable to
identify any source for the number of women incarcerated in jails in
1981.) From 1983 to 1994, Bureau of Justice Statistics' Sourcebook of
Criminal Justice Statistics - 1994
<http://bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/scjs94.pdf#page=542> (Table 6.11 Number
of Jail inmates, average dally population, and rated capacity: By legal
status and sex, United States, 1983-94). For years 1995 through 1999,
and 2001 through 2004, the number of incarcerated women in jails was
calculated from the Sourcebook of criminal justice statistics Online's
Table 6.17.2012, Jail inmates, By sex, race, Hispanic origin, and
conviction status, United States, 1990-2012
<http://www.albany.edu/sourcebook/pdf/t6172012.pdf> and Table 6.1.2011,
Adults on probation, in jail or prison, and on parole United States,
1980-2011 <http://www.albany.edu/sourcebook/pdf/t612011.pdf>. And
numbers for 2000 and 2005 through 2014 are from Bureau of Justice
Statistics' Jail Inmates at Midyear 2014
<http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/jim14.pdf#page=3> (Table 2. Number
of inmates in local jails, by characteristics, midyear 2000 and 2005-2014).
From the data above, we calculated the total number of women
incarcerated in each year, but in order to calculate the rate of
incarceration, we also needed the total number of women in the U.S. for
each year. Population data until 1980 and for 1990, was calculated based
on sex ratios from the Census Bureau's Demographic Trends in the 20th
Century Census 2000 Special Reports
<https://www.census.gov/prod/2002pubs/censr-4.pdf#page=168> (Table 6.
Population by Sex for the United States, Regions, and States: 1900 to
2000, Part B. Female) and the total U.S. population reported by the
Census Bureau. The sex ratios were reported decennially, so for 1923 and
1933 we estimated the ratio based on an adjusted percentage of change
between the bookend decades that were reported. Starting with 1980
(except for 1990), we took the female population numbers directly from
the U.S. Census Bureau's intercensal estimates and decennial census
counts. Total female U.S. population for 1982 through 1989 came from the
Census Bureau's Quarterly Population Estimates, 1980 to 1990
the data for 1991 through 1999 came from the Census Bureau's Intercensal
<http://www.census.gov/popest/data/intercensal/index.html>, and 2000
through 2014 from the Census Bureau's American FactFinder
About the authors
The non-profit, non-partisan Prison Policy Initiative produces cutting
edge research to expose the broader harm of mass criminalization, and
then sparks advocacy campaigns to create a more just society. This
report was prepared by Aleks Kajstura
<https://www.prisonpolicy.org/staff.html#kajstura>, Legal Director of
the Prison Policy Initiative, and Russ Immarigeon, an independent
researcher and editor of the two-volume set, Women and Girls in the
Criminal Justice System: Policy Strategies and Program Options
<http://www.civicresearchinstitute.com/wgc_book.html> (Civic Research
Institute, 2006, 2011).
We extend a special thanks to
Josh Begley <http://joshbegley.com/>
for his innovative work on
States of Incarceration: The Global Context
, upon which this report relied, and Elydah Joyce for her work on the
Prison Policy Initiative logo <https://www.prisonpolicy.org/>
Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415
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