The prison population is continuing to rise. It increased by 8% within 10 years.
More than eleven million people are imprisoned around the world. Of this number, 70% are awaiting trial, a percentage that has been continuously increasing since 2000.
Penal Reform International (PRI), in partnership with the Thailand Institute of Justice, published its annual report on major global prison trends. Global Prison Trends 2021 mainly covers the impact of COVID-19 on prisoners and prison personnel. Summary.
Death penalty is still in use in a third of the world's countries.
Death penalty. In December 2020, the United Nations General Assembly called for a global moratorium on the death penalty. 123 countries voted in favour of restoring it; however, it is still in use in a third of the world’s countries. In 2020, there were at least 483 executions, 16 of which were women. This number is lower than the previous year and the lowest on record.
Life imprisonment. An increasing number of countries are imposing life sentences for crimes to which the death penalty cannot be applied. Therefore, life sentencing tends to replace the death penalty. More offences are punishable by life sentencing, some without the possibility of parole. Other countries are implementing new reforms in order to reduce the use of life imprisonment.
Undocumented human rights violations increase and abuse cannot be prevented due to a lack of protection measures.
Regional conflicts, climate-related disasters, and pandemics can disrupt prison systems, sometimes permanently.
Health crises. Prison conditions and the lack of basic sanitary products are affecting the health of prisoners. According to official reports, 532,100 prisoners tested positive for COVID-19 in 122 countries, and 3,931 died in 47 countries. The actual number is thought to be much higher. The lack of medical personnel, the low budgets, and the implemented restrictions are affecting the quality of healthcare. More than 46 prison systems worldwide have adopted quarantine measures. These measures often include solitary confinement and visitation bans. Some locations compensate for this by providing digital communication tools. However, these tools are not widely available, so this digital divide creates isolation for some prisoners.
Prisons in times of conflict. Food and water provision is hampered during conflict, making it difficult for the authorities to continue working. Undocumented human rights violations increase and abuse cannot be prevented due to a lack of protection measures.
Prisons and natural disasters. Prisons are vulnerable to climate change. Prisoners exposed to heat waves, flooding, and earthquakes are unable to decide whether or not to evacuate. They are vulnerable and suffer the consequences. Many prisons do not have evacuation plans in place in case of crises.
UNICEF reported that more than 11,600 youth were released because of the health crisis.
Women There are 740,000 female prisoners, an increase of 100,000 from ten years ago. They are especially affected by COVID-19 restrictions. Some have no contact with their children. The State of New York passed a law in March 2021 ending the practice of solitary confinement for pregnant people and during the eight weeks following delivery, with the following conditions: no more than 15 consecutive days and no longer than 20 days over a period of 60 days.
Children. The suspension of external contact has prevented all family visitations as well as the education and therapeutic services normally received. In New York State, minors under 21 cannot be placed in solitary confinement, as is the case for pregnant people. In the United Kingdom, young prisoners are kept in solitary confinement for 23.5 hours out of 24. UNICEF noted that measures have been taken in at least 37 countries to avoid incarcerating minors, and it reported that more than 11,600 youth were released because of the health crisis.
Seniors. Prisons tend to accelerate the aging process. The health of 50-year-old prisoners is similar to that of 60-65-year-olds in the community, which makes them more vulnerable. Sentence re-adjustments have led to the release of some seniors, especially those exposed to the coronavirus. However, the automatic exclusion of people serving long sentences has prevented the wide-scale use of such measures.
Prison staff. Because of the nature of their work, prison officers are exposed to the coronavirus. Some employees are forced to work longer shifts, while others must stay confined to their workplace. In some countries, prison employees are classified as essential workers. There is discontent in some countries where authorities have not given sufficient attention to employee complaints. COVID-19 cases were reported among employees in 48 countries. In some countries, employees represented up to 88 % of COVID-19 cases detected in prison.
The organisation, founded in 1989, works globally to promote criminal justice systems that uphold human rights for all and do no harm. They work to make criminal justice systems non-discriminatory and protect the rights of disadvantaged people. They run practical human rights programmes and support reforms that make criminal justice fair and effective. It publishes annually its Global Prison Trends. Website