Essay on Prison Population




Essay on Prison Population


According to Jacobson, Heard and Fair (2017), there has been an unrelenting and rapid growth in the utilization of imprisonment as a response to social disorder and crime in recent decades around the world; a phenomenon that has resulted in a rise in worldwide prison population. In today’s society, more than ten million individuals are imprisoned worldwide (Jacobson, Heard and Fair, 2017). Areas that have experienced the fastest growth in the number of prisoners include Brazil where the prison population has increased twenty-fold from approximately 30,000 in 1973 to more than 600,000 today and the United States where the prison population has increased by more than quadruple times from an estimated number of 500,000 in 1980 to well over 2.3 million today (Jacobson, Heard and Fair, 2017). Prison population growth is also evident in England and Wales, though less dramatic as other nations whereby the number of prisoners increased from around 40,000 in 1975 to more 87,000 since 2012 (Jacobson, Heard and Fair, 2017).

The causes of increase in prison population are intricate. However, many of the consequences are vivid. Rapid increase in prison population results in inhumane, overcrowded and degrading conditions of detention of inmates. It also brings immense harm to the poor and marginalized groups in all societies which form the majority of individuals sent to prison. In addition, the worldwide increase in prison population limits the capacity of prison systems to deal effectively with meager minority of prisoners who pose serious risk to public safety and at the same time increases the risk posed by prisoners to fellow inmates, as well as, other individuals inside and outside the prison walls. Enormous costs and expenses have also accompanied the global increase in prison population. This research analysis explores the patterns of imprisonments in all five continents with specific evaluation of ten contrasting jurisdictions or nations, that is, Australia in Oceania, Thailand and India in Asia, South Africa and Kenya in Africa, Hungary, England and Wales and the Netherlands in Europe and United States and Brazil in the Americas. Essay on Prison Population


This research also looks at the lessons learned from the patterns and trends of imprisonment in the jurisdictions in the form of causes or factors leading to imprisonment and consequences of the use and over-use of imprisonment worldwide. This analysis is an addition to the existing wider research whose objective is to come up with suitable and workable strategies to curb the resort to incarceration by countries worldwide which eventually result in increase in prison population. It is vivid from this paper that there is neither a single set of factors or determinants that explains the global increase in prison population nor a single route towards efficient reform aimed at curbing prison population growth. Based on this understanding, this research analysis suggests specific effective strategies for reducing imprisonment and in turn the prison population in the form of themes such as imprisonment of low level offenders, excessive utilization of pre-trial detention, over-representation of certain groups in prisons including minority ethnic groups, as well as, drug policy.

LITERATURE REVIEW Essay on Prison Population


In as much as there is no dispute that prison populations have increased steadily across the world in recent decades, there are pieces of the puzzles of worldwide imprisonment that must be outlined. Evaluation of the trends in the first fifteen years of the 21st century evinces mixed outcomes. Between 2000 and 2015, the total prison population of the Americas increased by 41%, while that of Africa increased by 15%, that of Oceania by 59% and that of Asia by 29%. In contrast, the prison population of Europe decreased by 21% (Jacobson, Heard and Fair, 2017). Broad continental trends in prison population involving other nations reveal even starker disparities. For instance, the number of prisoners in the United States initially declined before rising steadily in the last fifteen years. On the other hand, other nations in Europe such as the Netherlands have seen an increase in prison population before the number declining in recent periods with Hungary experiencing the vice versa. However, there are countries whereby the prison population has remained relatively low over time as is evident in the case of India (Walmsley, 2015). Essay on Prison Population


These mixed outcomes in prison numbers for various nations in the 21st century indicate that there is nothing inevitable regarding prison population growth, that is, in as much as prison numbers may decline in a given country, they eventually rise with strict implementation of statutes against social disorder and crime. Despite there being multiple factors that directly or indirectly facilitate increase in prison population or greater utilization of incarceration, there is also a vast array of downward pressures and moderating influences as Jacobson, Heard and Fair (2017) report. A good example of the downward pressures is resource constraints emanating from the fact that running and maintaining prisons is expensive. Moreover, there is increasing acknowledgement of the failings of imprisonment as a response to social problems and a way reforming convicts, and growing acceptance of the fact that these problems can be tackled effectively through alternative means or programs without resorting to letting the criminal justice handle them (Jacobson, Heard and Fair, 2017). As a result, most countries have made vivid political choices to reduce the number of prisoners in their prisons and restrict the utilization of imprisonment based on economic concerns, as well as, other concerns such as ineffectiveness of prisons in reforming convicts and overcrowding of prisons. Essay on Prison Population


The principal interest is in the disparities evident in the jurisdictions analyzed in this research in the extent to which incarceration is utilized as a tool of penal policy so as to learn the transferrable lessons on how to decrease the increasing prison population worldwide from the ten countries’ discordant experiences of and approaches to criminal justice. As Coyle et al. (2016) report, more than ten million individuals are imprisoned worldwide and this number includes both people who have been sentenced to imprisonment following conviction of crime and people who are being held in custody before proceeding trial or sentencing. Causes of growth in prison population in the United States, Brazil, Kenya, South Africa, England and Wales, the Netherlands, Hungary, Thailand, India and Australia, as well as, other nations around the world are immense, distinct and interwoven. Scholars continue to discuss the inter-relationships between and explanatory values of factors associated with increase in prison population such as growth in political cultures and punitive public debate, neoliberal imperatives to supplant the welfare states with a penal state founded on mass imprisonment of the vulnerable and poor, changing patterns of crime and the wider geo-political insecurities that form their backdrop (Jacobson, Heard and Fair, 2017).

As Travis and Western (2014) denote, the growth of the penal system and high rates of imprisonment did not occur by accident. Through the history of different nations, there are various social and political events, as well as, issues of social disorder that resulted in increasing imprisonment of people for various offences included in the penal system. As such, they emanated from a series of policy decisions made by different nations that were intended to enhance the severity of sanctions. A combination of crime, politics and race influenced the implementation of more punitive criminal justice policies (Travis and Western, 2014). The relevant forces include social and political unrest following wars in different nations based on politics, for instance the World War II, social issues such as civil rights and fight for inclusion and against discrimination of minority races and ethnicities and major transformations in urban economies that entailed the disappearance of many well-paid jobs for low-skilled workers, elections and partisan political appointments of prosecutors and judges that painted a picture of winner takes all systems (Travis and Western, 2014). Such conditions made nations more vulnerable to politicization of criminal justice in a punitive direction that resulted in steady increase in prison population over the last sixteen years. Essay on Prison Population


Albeit rise in crime rates based on various criminal offences is largely attributed to the rising rates of number of prisoners in various countries, this is only part of the story and it is only through analysis of trends in prison population within political, social and historical context that one can discern the underlying causes of steep imprisonment rates. Most nations experienced a rise in crime rates from the 1960s. Notwithstanding, due to the underlying discordances in the political, institutional, social and economic context, there are mixed results when it comes to other nations apart from the Western countries responding to crime by adopting harsher statutes and policies (Tonry, 2007). This means that even though other nations were not quick to adopt harsher laws and policies isn contrast to the Western countries that were quick to do so, this has changed over the years with almost every nation tightening its rules and policies against crime in the 21st century, resulting in prison population growth worldwide. Essay on Prison Population


Before the late 20th century years, the making, incorporation and enforcement of criminal justice policy in various nations lied almost exclusively within the purview of the local authorities and not the national governments. However, following urban development, advancement in technology and industrial development that rendered most low-skilled workers unemployed, corruption, war, conflicts and fight for against social injustice, policy makers and public officials at all levels of governments increasingly sought ways of making changes in policing, criminal justice policy and legislation, judicial and prosecutorial demeanor (Travis and Western, 2014). These alterations ultimately resulted in major increases in the governments’ capacity to pursue and punish lawbreakers, as well as, an escalation of sanctions and incarceration for a vast array of crimes to immense health, economic, employment, family and communal detriment.

The steady increase in imprisonment and prison population has resulted in various consequences on health, employment, economic, family and community. According to Sung (2010), injury and violence are contemplated as public health issues in free societies, but perceived as management or disciplinary problems in correctional facilities such as prisons. As Wolff and Jing (2009) denote in their study of one jurisdiction, thirty-two percent of male prisoners reported a physical assault in a six-month period. Rosen et al. (2012) build on this point by stating that in a study among United States prisoners, eighteen percent of black men and fourteen percent of white men sustained fight-related injuries despite some forgoing medical treatment for injuries in accordance with the prison culture. Essay on Prison Population


Self-injury is also common in prisons. According to the study conducted by Appelbaum et al. (2011), approximately fifty percent of female prison inmates engaged in self-injury in the form of cutting or ingesting foreign objects, mostly when they were held in segregation units. Sexual assault is another detrimental health consequence of increased incarceration. In surveys conducted on inmates and former inmates, 10% of former prisoners reported at least one episode of sexual victimization during their most recent incarceration and more than 4% of prison inmates and 3% of jail inmates reported sexual assault (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2012); Beck et al., 2013).

Studies by various scholars on earnings and employment consequences of increased imprisonment has assumed many forms such as, ethnographic observation, employer surveys, research on aggregate impacts and analysis of administrative data. Evidence from survey research consistently reveals a significant negative relationship between employment, annual income, wages and increased imprisonment (Travis and Western, 2014). Research that utilizes administrative data shows mixed conclusions in that some recent studies report a boost in employment immediately after imprisonment. However, in most situations that boost in employment is short-lived and followed by long-tern adverse economic and employment effects. While the aggregate impacts of incarceration or possessing a criminal record are difficult to explore for general populations, they appear significant for young black men (Travis and Western, 2014).

Given the discordant mechanisms by which increased imprisonment affects employment and the economy of countries, it is vital for this research’s analysis of potential policy alternatives. For example if the adverse consequences of increased imprisonment for employment and the economy are as a result of its reform efforts effect on psychological, physical or social well-being of convicts in the form of development of coping mechanisms that are incompatible with life on the outside, weakening of pro-social ties and attrition to human capital, then substituting incarceration with community supervision is seen as a suitable option for reducing these consequences. On the other hand, if the consequences of increased imprisonment for employment and the economy are based principally on the stigma of having serious criminal justice contact, then the policies aimed at reducing prison population by assigning people to other formal sanctions such as fines, probation and treatment would do little to decrease this labeling and damaging effect. Moreover, most of these alternatives to incarceration also come with a permanent criminal record. As such, in order to have a positive consequence for employment and economic status of a nation associated with increased imprisonment, policies aimed at curbing adverse economic and employment consequences must go beyond reducing the number of prisoners (Travis and Western, 2014). This is because most of these alternatives, policies or programs appear to generate only short-term effects or impacts that generalize only to subsets of the population (Bloom, 2006). As Travis and Western (2014) assert, less intensive efforts such as the training under the Job Training Partnership Act and income supplements of TARP in the United States and interventions directed at make youth have been unsuccessful, but more intensive interventions aimed at desired behavior tend to register more success, especially if they target adults who are known to be motivated to resist crime. Essay on Prison Population


When it comes to the consequence of increased imprisonment on families and children, there is consistent evidence of a link between instability in male-female unions and incarceration of men. Travis and Western (2014) found a strong and consistent link between the imprisonment of fathers and family economic hardship including difficulty meeting basic needs, housing insecurity and the utilization of public assistance. Increased imprisonment also decreases the involvement of fathers in the lives of their children after being released, largely due to the fact that it undermines the co-parenting relationship with the mother of the children. Research by Travis and Western (2014) also reveals that both quantitative and ethnographic studies indicate that the increased incarceration of fathers results in an increase in behavior problems among children in the form of delinquency and aggression. Such consequences are especially pronounced in boys and children who were not only living with but also actively involved in the lives of their fathers at the time of their incarceration. Thus, apart from facing instability as families following the incarceration of fathers or mothers in the family unit, families also find it hard to cope financially and meet basic needs without the presence of one of the parent, especially when that parent is the bread winner in the family.

Increased prison population represents an interrelated sequence of experiences, events and institutions. It is vital to contemplate how the correlates and components of increased imprisonment have differential prominence for any given community feature. As researchers have observed, admission and releases to and from prison have significantly discordant results since they are distinct from social processes (Travis and Western, 2014). Moreover, as seen in this research analysis, increased imprisonment is not itself a policy, but a policy product. The vital point is that imprisonment represents the final step in a series of people’s experiences with the criminal justice system such that increased incarceration by itself may not have much of an impact on communities when factors such as conviction, arrest and other forms of state social control are also considered.

Communities experiencing high levels of incarceration are disadvantaged in various ways, but it is unclear how these communities are affected exactly. For instance, as Pettit (2012) and Western (2006) denote, it is not vivid whether increased incarceration has the same community effect for blacks and whites despite the fact increased imprisonment is known to have occurred disproportionately among African Americans and in poor African American neighborhoods, as well as, other white dominated nations. Despite the evidence being inconclusive, prevailing theoretical accounts are avid enough to warrant novel data collection and empirical approaches that provide more information on the relationship between increased imprisonment and communities. Moreover, it is imperative to note that adjudicating the relationship between competing hypotheses is complex due to how neighborhoods and communities are socially organized in various societies worldwide. Therefore, in as much as legacies of social deprivation on different dimensions mean that the unique impact of increased imprisonment is imprecisely approximated, the larger point is that the harshest criminal sentences and sanctions are significantly being delivered disproportionately to individuals from the most vulnerable neighborhoods or communities (Travis and Western, 2014).

METHODOLOGY Essay on Prison Population


Data Collection

The source of data for the statistics, figures and tables in this research analysis of increasing prison population worldwide is the World Prison Brief database, the United Nations Human Development Index and the Bureau of Justice Statistics, as well as, as the Bureau of Statistics for specific nations. This research primarily presents and analyzes data derived and standardized by the mentioned databases.

Unit of Analysis Essay on Prison Population


Data on prisoners from the jurisdictions selected, that is, United States, Brazil, Kenya, South Africa, England and Wales, the Netherlands, Hungary, Thailand, India and Australia are reported at a national level. Regardless of the other stages involved in the criminal justice system such as investigations, prosecutions, convictions, individuals entering custody, individuals leaving custody or individuals in prison, this research analyzes the data of the number of people in prisons in the selected jurisdictions, as well as, the trend in terms of gender and rise or decline. Analyzed data is reported on a national level.

Reporting Period

The data in this research are organized into annual fiscal year files that reflect the activity in terms of prison population between 1950 and 2015.

Classification of Offenses Leading to Incarceration

Some of the offenses discussed in this research analysis as the ones capable of getting people and consequently resulting in a steady prison population growth worldwide include violence, property theft, damage and fraud, drug possession and use, disruption of public order, possession of illegal weapons and use of weapons illicitly, immigration offenses, as well as, supervision violation.

Reporting Scope

This research analysis focuses on prisoners in various jurisdictions who were convicted and imprisoned for violations of criminal law.

DISCUSSION Essay on Prison Population


Prison Population in Selected Jurisdictions

The ten jurisdictions in this research were selected based on their regional or global influence, geographic spread and their diversity in terms of legal systems, economic prosperity and prison population trends and rates. The table below comprises of data for the ten jurisdictions in terms of their regions and legal systems derived from National population data from the World Prison Brief database as registered in the United Nations Development index.


Table 1. Jurisdictions and their Legal Systems

Country Region Legal system
Kenya Eastern Africa Predominantly common law
South Africa Southern Africa Hybrid of common law, civil law & customary law
Brazil South America Civil law
United States Northern America Common law
India Southern Asia Common law
Thailand South Eastern Asia Civil law with strong common law influences
England & Wales Northern Europe Common law
Hungary Central & Eastern Europe Civil law
Netherlands Western Europe Civil law
Australia Oceania Common law


As evident in Figure 1.1 from the World Prison Brief database, the ten selected jurisdictions have vastly discordant prison population rates and sizes. The country with the largest prison population is the United States at approximately 2.1 million. The number of prisoners in each jurisdiction relative to 100,000 national population is a much more meaningful comparison due to the effect of imprisonment on the national population, families and children, communities, health, employment and the economy. As such the number of prisoners per 100,000 of the national population ranges from 426 and 666 in Thailand and the United States respectively to 33 and 61 in India and the Netherlands.

Approaches to reducing resort to imprisonment and increased prison population.

United States, Brazil, Kenya, South Africa, England and Wales, the Netherlands, Hungary, Thailand, India and Australia have all experienced the negative impacts of increased imprisonment. Out of these ten jurisdictions, only the Netherlands has attained a sustained reduction in imprisonment levels and today possesses what could be termed as parsimonious approach to dealing with prison population whereby custodial sentences are considered a genuine last resort (Jacobson, Heard and Fair, 2017). Drawing on what has emerged from these countries in terms of prison population and the impacts of increased imprisonment, this research analysis provides some themes and questions that strategies aimed at curbing rising prison populations can address such as imprisonment of low level offenders, excessive utilization of pre-trial detention, over-representation of certain groups in prisons including minority ethnic groups, as well as, drug policy.

Imprisonment of low level offenders Essay on Prison Population


In some jurisdictions, increased imprisonment for low risk or low level offences has resulted to higher prison populations. For instance, in England and Wales, many relative minor offences have in the recent years been included in the list of crimes that could lead to imprisonment. Moreover, in these nations individuals who breach non-custodial sentences are also more likely to end up in prison (Jacobson, Heard and Fair, 2017). The same trend is evident in India and African states whereby the prosecution of petty offences often results in imprisonment including through unnecessary and protracted pre-trail detention. It has now been acknowledged that this limits development and takes a disproportionate toll on poor communities. As such, in order to decrease the rising prison population, nations worldwide must provide alternative retribution to lower risk offenders instead of sending all of them to prison.

Excessive utilization of pre-trial detention

The unnecessary and unwarranted utilization of pre-trial detention is a major contributor to overcrowding and poor conditions in various prisons worldwide and in many jurisdictions analyzed in this research. There are international treaties that specify clearly the basis for detention before trial as a last resort. As such, pre-trail detention should not be exploited; instead, it should only occur if certain conditions are present such as if the offence is above a specified level of seriousness and where there is a risk that the accused individual will abscond or interfere with witnesses or evidence. Research by Jacobson, Heard and Fair (2017) evinces that excessive utilization of pre-trial detention is not normally caused by defective or absent legal provisions, but by compulsory restriction of the right to bail as in Brazil, courts refusing to grant bail or other conditional releases without adequate grounds as evident in Netherlands and by absence of workable alternatives to custody, as well as, under-resourced and inefficient court systems as evident in India. Limiting pre-trial detention to situations that are completely necessary will go a long way in curbing the rising prison populations.

Over-representation of certain groups in prison Essay on Prison Population


It is vivid from the prison statistics in all jurisdictions discussed in this this research analysis that certain communities and groups are immensely over-represented in prison populations. This is especially evident in relation to ethnicity and race as seen in the United States, Brazil and England and Wales whereby the proportion of black and mixed race individuals in prison significantly exceeds that in the general population and Australia where indigenous people are prevalent in prisons than white inmates. Roma and Gypsy people are over-represented in Hungary prisons. According to Walmsley (2015), the proportion of women in prison globally has also risen at a faster rate than that of men in recent decades. This trend is evident in Brazil and Thailand, with the trend also extending into much of South and Central America, as well as, South East Asia. This growth can be attributed to harsher penal polices for drug offences that have resulted in this demographic ending up in prison more than white male individuals. Another over-represented group in numerous prisons comprises of individuals with specific vulnerabilities such as people with substance dependency, children and those suffering from learning disabilities or mental illnesses. Putting in place policies that restrict nations from making people from these groups fall victim to imprisonment will be a step in the right direction toward reducing the resort to incarceration and rising prison population worldwide.

Drug Policy Essay on Prison Population


The different harmful impacts of global illegal drug trade when combined with unemployment, weak systems of law and order and political instability present a crucial challenge for national governments in many parts of the world such as in Thailand and Brazil. Despite the fact countries owe their citizens a duty to confront drug trafficking and related violence, this process requires unbiased, proportionate, transparent, humane and fair criminal justice institutions. As warned by the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) (2016), excessive utilization of incarceration for drug-related offenses, especially those of a minor nature is indeed ineffective in decreasing recidivism and places a huge burden on criminal justice systems. This process or approach utilized many states is particularly counterproductive and harmful when nations decide to devote their resources to harsh enforcement efforts in underprivileged and marginalized communities affected by high levels of drug dependency and unemployment.

International drug control conventions provide some flexibility when it comes to their prerequisites for national drug policies. This explains why different jurisdictions have discordant ways of treating drug-related offences evident in their extent of prosecutorial and sentencing discretion. Even with the extensive utilization of imprisonment and criminalization, the war on drugs has not been won; instead, these approaches have only brought massive collateral damage (Jacobson, Heard and Fair, 2017). Thus, there is an urgent need to evaluate what alternative strategies exist beyond incarceration, at least for some of the offenses related to drug use and abuse. As is highlighted in this research analysis, certain jurisdictions have implemented more punitive approaches, including imprisonment for conduct which is elsewhere contemplated as minor, such as possession of drugs for personal consumption. With the increasing acknowledgment of the ineffectiveness and harm of tough legislation enforcement approaches, other strategies are gaining popularity to deal with drug-related offences. For instance, several nations have legalized or decriminalized the recreational utilization of cannabis. As such, greater focus on harm reduction and supplanting a criminal justice approach with civil regulation to deal with the many drug-related offenders who would otherwise end up in prison is a suitable and viable way of reducing the increasing number of prisoners worldwide.