Countries by number of prisoners: Highest & Lowest

Countries by number of prisoners

As the statistic above illustrates, the United States has one of the highest rates of incarceration in the world. With 655 inmates per 100 thousand of population, the U.S. is by far the leader among large industrialized nations in incarceration. Russia comes closest at 381.

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Not only is the U.S. among the leading countries worldwide in incarcerations per 100 thousand of population, but it was also home to the largest total number of prisoners in 2019.

Roughly 2.12 million people were incarcerated in the United States in 2019. China’s estimated prison population totaled to 1.65 million people that year. Other nations with population sizes comparable to the United States have far fewer prisoners.

A significant portion of U.S. prisoners in federal correctional facilities were of black or African-American origin. As of 2016, there were almost 420,000 black, non-Hispanic prisoners. They made up 38 percent of all incarcerated persons in the U.S, but accounted for only 12 percent of the total U.S. population.

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About 190,000 prisoners in state facilities were sentenced for drug-related offenses, accounting for roughly 14.8 percent of all state prisoners in the U.S. Drug-related offenses, such as trafficking and possession, were the most common cause of imprisonment in state prisons. Second most common were felonies, such as murder and robbery, at 14.2 and 13.2 percent respectively.

This report shows that more than 10.74 million people are held in penal institutions throughout the world, either as pre-trial detainees/remand prisoners or having been convicted and sentenced.

Figures for Eritrea, Somalia and the Democratic People’s Republic of (North) Korea are not available and those for China and Guinea Bissau are incomplete (see footnote to Table 3 concerning China). Also missing are prisoners held under authorities not recognized internationally and those pre-trial prisoners who are held in police facilities and not included in published national prison population totals.

The full total is, therefore, higher than 10.74 million and is likely to be well over 11 million. C There are more than 2.1 million prisoners in the United States of America, 1.65 million in China (plus unknown numbers in pre-trial detention and other forms of detention), 690,000 in Brazil, 583,000 in the Russian Federation, 420,000 in India, 364,000 in Thailand, 249,000 in Indonesia, 233,000 in Turkey, 230,000 in Iran, 204,000 in Mexico and 188,000 in the Philippines.

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C The countries with the highest prison population rate – that is, the number of prisoners per 100,000 of the national population – are the United States (655 per 100,000), followed by El Salvador (604), Turkmenistan (552), U.S. Virgin Islands (542), Thailand (526), Cuba (510), Maldives (499), Northern Mariana Islands – U.S.A. (482), British Virgin Islands (470), Rwanda (464), Bahamas (438), Seychelles (437), Grenada (435), St Vincent and the Grenadines (426), Guam – U.S.A. (404) and Russian Federation (402). C

However, more than half of all countries and territories (53%) have rates below 150 per 100,000. C The world prison population rate, based on United Nations estimates of national population levels, is 145 per 100,000. C Prison population rates vary considerably between different regions of the world, and between different parts of the same continent.

For example:

• in Africa the median rate for western African countries is 53 whereas for southern African countries it is 244;

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• in the Americas the median rate for south American countries is 233 whereas for central American countries it is 316;

• in Asia the median rate for countries in southern Asia (mainly the Indian subcontinent) is 88 whereas for central Asian countries it is 160.5;

• in Europe the median rate for western European countries is 81 whereas for the countries spanning Europe and Asia (e.g. the Russian Federation and Turkey) it is 268;

• in Oceania the median rate is 182.5. C Since about the year 2000 the world prison population total has grown by 24%, which is about the same as the estimated increase in the world’s general population over the same period. There are considerable differences between the continents, and variation within continents.

The total prison population in Oceania has increased by 86%, that in the Americas by 41%, that in Asia by 38% and that in Africa by 29%; in Europe, by contrast, the total prison population has decreased by 22%. The European figure reflects large falls in prison populations in Russia (45%) and also in central and eastern Europe;

the prison population in Europe other than Russia has increased by 3%. Particularly large rises have been recorded in south America (175%) and south-eastern Asia (122%). C Over the three years since the previous edition of the World Prison Population List was published there has been little overall change in world prison population levels.

The known prison population of the world has grown by 386,500 (3.7%) but the national populations have grown by almost as much (3.0%). Thus, the prison population level per head of population has risen by less than 1%. However, the global figure masks substantial changes – both upwards and downwards – in some countries.

There have been large rises per head of population in Cambodia (68%), Nicaragua (61%), Egypt (53%), Philippines (48%), Indonesia (45%), Ecuador (37%), Jordan and Turkey (both 31%). There have been large falls per head of population in Mexico (23%), Romania (22%), Kazakhstan (21%), Ukraine (19%), Japan (15%), Vietnam (11%) and the Russian Federation (10%).

Countries by a number of prisoners:

The highest number of prisoners per 100,000 inhabitants:

  • United States – 655
  • El Salvador – 604
  • Turkmenistan – 552
  • Thailand – 526
  • Cuba – 510
  • Rwanda – 464
  • Russia – 402
  • Panama – 390
  • Costa Rica – 374
  • Belarus – 364
  • Brazil – 324
  • Uruguay – 321
  • Namibia – 295
  • Turkey – 288
  • Iran – 284
  • Swaziland – 282
  • South Africa – 280
  • Nicaragua – 276
  • Peru – 270
  • Trinidad and Tobago – 270
  • Georgia – 268
  • Taiwan – 265
  • Colombia – 240
  • Dominican Republic – 238
  • Israel – 236
  • Azerbaijan – 235
  • Lithuania – 235
  • Bahrain – 234
  • Chile – 233
  • Morocco – 232

Countries by a number of prisoners:

The lowest number of prisoners per 100,000 inhabitants:

  • Central African Republic – 16
  • Congo – 27
  • Democratic Republic of Congo – 29
  • Mali – 33
  • India – 33
  • Oman – 36
  • Nigeria – 37
  • Iceland – 37
  • Japan – 41
  • Burkina Faso – 41
  • Pakistan – 43
  • Mauritania – 46
  • Liberia – 47
  • Timor-Leste – 51
  • Ghana – 51
  • Finland – 51
  • Sudan – 52
  • South Sudan – 52
  • Yemen – 53
  • Qatar – 53
  • Niger – 53
  • Bangladesh – 53
  • Tanzania – 58
  • Sierra Leone – 58
  • Gambia – 58
  • Sweden – 59
  • Chad – 59
  • Syria – 60
  • Netherlands – 61
  • Mozambique – 61

*Not included countries with less than 1 million inhabitants.

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