More Women Are Being Imprisoned Than Ever Before

n the 21st century, women are catching up to men in all kinds of ways—including one we shouldn’t be proud of. Worldwide, the gender gap is closing fast in an unfortunate social institution: prisons.

Globally, women and girls are getting locked up at historic rates. While overall imprisonment rates have plateaued or declined in many countries, the number of women and girls in prison has surged. According to a new analysis in the Worldwide Prison Report, by researchers at Birkbeck University’s Institute for Criminal Policy Research (ICPR) in London, since 2000, there has been a 53 percent leap in the imprisonment of women and girls.

Compared to their male counterparts, women are more often incarcerated for minor and nonviolent crimes, typically involving property or drug-related charges. The population of women and girls in prison is rising faster overall than general population growth, which rose about 21 percent over the same time period. In the United States in particular, though the overall imprisonment rates have stabilized, the number of women in prison has skyrocketed, so that of the global total of 714,000 imprisoned women and girls, some 212,000 are locked up in this country. Worldwide, the study found that incarcerated female population has also risen in the Americas, Asia, and Oceania at three, four, and five times the rate of regional population growth, respectively.

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