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Girls & Women

The Number of Women and Girls in Prison Has Grown 50% Around the World

When “Orange Is The New Black” debuted on Netflix four years ago, many prison-reform advocates thought it heralded the promise of change for the women’s criminal justice system.

Instead, data released this week shows that the number of female prisoners in the world has in fact grown by more than 50% in recent years, with an even greater increase in certain parts of the world, including the United States.

Globally, there are more than 714,000 women and girls held in prisons, according to the World Female Imprisonment List, released by the University of London’s Institute for Criminal Policy Research. In the year 2000 that number was just 466,000 inmates.

And the increase is consistent across every continent.

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The United States has the highest number of female prisoners in the world — 200,000. According to separate research from Stanford University, that figure is eight times what it was in 1980s and grew at twice the rate of men in prison

The US is followed by China in terms of women in prison (more than 107,000), which is then followed by Russia (48,478), Brazil (44,700), Thailand (41,119), and India (17,834).

Thailand and Russia have made strides in reducing their prison populations over the past 17 years, along with Mexico and Vietnam.

But Brazil, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Turkey have all seen their female prisoners increase during that time frame, according to the report.

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While women and girls make up only about 7% of the global prison population, they are often subjected to discrimination because they are women. Women’s prisons are staffed mostly by men, and female inmates are often subjected to harassment or assault, according to Amnesty International.

Women who are mothers are often separated from their children, whose visiting privileges prison staff can revoke as means of additional punishment, according to the group.

“The latest data on female imprisonment are a cause for concern,” Catherine Heard, director of ICPR’s World Prison Research Programme, said in a statement released with the report. “Women and girls in prison are a vulnerable and disadvantaged group and tend to be victims of crime and abuse themselves.”

“Governments and prison administrations should be asking searching questions about the factors underlying these data and how they can address them,” she said.

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