Many people agree that prison has its place. But countries vary wildly in what actions constitute being locked-up worthy. As new global incarceration rate data shows, higher rates of putting people in jail don’t necessarily equate to safer countries.
Measuring Incarceration Rates
World Population Review used data from the World Prison Brief to rank countries with the world’s highest incarceration rates. The data is based on the rate of incarcerations per 100,000 people.
1: United States
The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world, at 629 jailed people per 100,000 residents. The U.S. is also the number one country with the most people in prison, at over two million.
Rwanda’s incarceration rate is 580 people per 100,000 citizens. The East African country has over 76,000 people in jail.
Turkmenistan ranks just below Rwanda, with an incarceration rate of 576. The Central Asian country’s prisons have 35,000 people at any given time.
4: El Salvador
El Salvador’s incarceration rate is 564 per 100,000 residents. Because of its larger population, the Central American country has about 1,600 more people in jail than Turkmenistan.
With an incarceration rate of 510 people for every 100,000 citizens, Cuba makes the top five countries with the world’s highest incarceration rates. The Caribbean island has over 57,000 people in jail.
Palau’s incarceration rate is 478 per 100,000 residents. Because of its tiny population, the Micronesian island country “only” has an average of 86 people at any given time.
7: British Virgin Islands
The British Virgin Islands may be a beach hub for tourists, but its crime rate of 477 per 100,000 residents turns heads. The Caribbean archipelago has over 140 residents in jail.
Thailand’s incarceration rate is 445 jailed people per 100,000 citizens. That equates to more than 309,000 people in prison in the Southeast Asian nation.
Panama’s incarceration rate of 423 is about on par with Thailand’s. But because of its smaller population, it has just under 19,000 citizens in jail at any given time.
10: Saint Kitts and Nevis
The dual-island Caribbean nation Saint Kitts and Nevis squeeze into the unwanted top ten countries with the highest incarceration rates. Its incarceration rate is 423, with 220 total incarcerations.
Grenada’s incarceration rate of 394 people per 100,000 residents sounds relatively small compared to the rates revealed so far. The Caribbean island has over 460 incarcerated residents.
12: United States Virgin Islands
The U.S. Virgin Islands are yet another Caribbean island to make this list. The islands have an incarceration rate of 392, with more than 400 incarcerated people.
With an incarceration rate of 392, the Bahamas joins many of its fellow Caribbean countries in having a high rate of prisoners. The Bahamas has over 1,600 people in jail at any given time.
Uruguay has the highest incarceration rate in South America, at 383 residents. That equals more than 13,400 people in jail.
With an incarceration rate of 381, Brazil stays clear of the top ten countries with the highest incarceration rates. However, because of its large population, that equates to a massive 811,707 people in jail.
16: Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
The southern Caribbean nation of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines has an incarceration rate of 369. Over 400 people call Saint Vincent and the Grenadines’ prisons home.
The British Overseas Territory of Anguilla has an incarceration rate of 369 per 100,000 residents. The eastern Caribbean country has a deceivingly “small” 55 total incarcerated people due to its tiny population.
Guam has an incarceration rate of 355 residents per 100,000 people. The Micronesian U.S. island territory has about 600 people in jail at any given moment.
Turkey slips just below Guam in incarceration rankings, with an incarceration rate of 347. The Middle Eastern country has more than 290,000 people in jail.
20: Belarus & American Samoa
Belarus and American Samoa tie as being the last countries to make the top 20 nations with the highest incarceration rates. Their incarceration rate is 345 people per 100,000 residents. That equates to over 32,500 incarcerated people in Belarus and just under 200 incarcerated people in American Samoa.
Lowest Incarceration Rates
European microstate San Marino has the lowest incarceration rate in the world. What’s the rate, you ask? Zero.
The Central African Republic and the Faroe Islands in the North Atlantic Ocean have the second and third lowest incarceration rates, respectively, at 16 and 18 people per 100,000 residents.
Male vs Female
World Population Review also considered the percentage of men versus women in jail. Nearly all countries had a significantly higher percentage of men in prison.
All Eyes on the US
The U.S. is one of the few countries in the world with a double-digit percentage of women in jail. Ten percent of people in U.S. prisons are women.
The Marshall Islands and Faroe Islands have jails with a 100% male occupancy rate.
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