UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) says no fewer than 33% of prisoners around the world are being held without having stood trial or been found guilty by any court.
The body revealed this in a new study – the first global research data on prisons – published on Friday ahead of Nelson Mandela International Day on Sunday. The study explores the long-term trends of imprisonment.
Nelson Mandela International Day, which is marked annually on July 18, honours a man who shaped the 20th century and influenced this century.
The UNODC data showed that while the global population grew 21% between 2000 and 2019, the number of prisoners worldwide jumped by more than 25%.
By the end of this period, 11.7 million people had been incarcerated – a population similar in size to Bolivia, Burundi, Belgium, or Tunisia. And by the end of 2019, the latest year for which full data is available, there were approximately 152 prisoners per 100,000 people.
Northern America, Sub-Saharan Africa and Eastern Europe have experienced a long-term decrease in imprisonment rates of up to 27% over the past two decades, while some other regions, such as Latin America, Australia and New Zealand, have experienced an increase of up to 68%.
During this same period, however, the number of women in prison rose by 33%, compared with 25% for men.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, widespread consciousness emerged regarding prison overcrowding. Data from UNODC indicate that prison overcrowding varies significantly by region. In about half of all countries with data available, prison systems operate at more than 100% of their intended capacity.
Globally, an analysis of public and government sources indicate that 550,000 prisoners in 122 countries were infected with COVID-19 as of last May. The disease’s prison fatalities are close to 4,000, stretching across 47 countries.
In response to the pandemic, some prisons limited recreation time, work opportunities, and visitation rights – all essential components of rehabilitation programmes.
Due to the difficulty of implementing prevention measures in detention centres, in particular overcrowded ones, some countries have decided to release a large number of prisoners temporarily, particularly those convicted of nonviolent offences.
As of March, approximately 6% of the global prison population – or at least 700,000 inmates – have been released through COVID emergency mechanisms that were enacted by 119 countries.