Incarceration is the detention of a person in prison
A prison is a place in which people are physically confined and, usually, deprived of a range of personal freedoms. Imprisonment or incarceration is a legal penalty that may be imposed by the state for the commission of a crime...

, typically as punishment
Punishment is the authoritative imposition of something negative or unpleasant on a person or animal in response to behavior deemed wrong by an individual or group....

 for a crime
Crime is the breach of rules or laws for which some governing authority can ultimately prescribe a conviction...

 (custodial sentence
Custodial sentence
A custodial sentence is a judicial sentence, imposing a punishment consisting of mandatory custody of the convict, either in prison or in some other closed therapeutic and/or educational institution, such as a reformatory, psychiatry or drug detoxification...


People are most commonly incarcerated upon suspicion or conviction of committing a crime, and different jurisdiction
Jurisdiction is the practical authority granted to a formally constituted legal body or to a political leader to deal with and make pronouncements on legal matters and, by implication, to administer justice within a defined area of responsibility...

s have differing law
Law is a system of rules and guidelines which are enforced through social institutions to govern behavior, wherever possible. It shapes politics, economics and society in numerous ways and serves as a social mediator of relations between people. Contract law regulates everything from buying a bus...

s governing the function of incarceration within a larger system of justice. Incarceration serves four essential purposes with regard to criminals:
  • to isolate criminals to prevent them from committing more crimes
  • to punish criminals for committing crimes
  • to deter others from committing crimes
  • to rehabilitate criminals

Incarceration rates, when measured by the United Nations
United Nations
The United Nations is an international organization whose stated aims are facilitating cooperation in international law, international security, economic development, social progress, human rights, and achievement of world peace...

, are considered distinct and separate from the imprisonment of political prisoner
Political prisoner
According to the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, a political prisoner is ‘someone who is in prison because they have opposed or criticized the government of their own country’....

s and others not charged with a specific crime. Historically, the frequency of imprisonment, its duration, and severity have varied considerably. There has also been much debate about the motives for incarceration, its effectiveness and fairness, as well as debate regarding the related questions about the nature and etiology
Etiology is the study of causation, or origination. The word is derived from the Greek , aitiologia, "giving a reason for" ....

 of criminal
Crime is the breach of rules or laws for which some governing authority can ultimately prescribe a conviction...


Justice studies

Wilkenson (2004) notes that overall heterogeneity of a society may provide a meta-explanation for the variance in incarceration rates: There may be a multi-directional causality where close-knit societies are least likely to offend against one another. Knowing ones' neighbors may hence bridge econometric explanations across communities. Or put another way, except perhaps for crimes of passion, people do not offend against people they know well.

Penology is a section of criminology that deals with the philosophy and practice of various societies in their attempts to repress criminal activities, and satisfy public opinion via an appropriate treatment regime for persons convicted of criminal offenses.The Oxford English Dictionary defines...

 and justice studies emphasize description and analysis of antecedents of criminal behavior and outcomes of consequences imposed by criminal justice on the criminal behavior. An example of a modern quantitative study of factors influencing the criminal behavior is the study by Krus and Hoehl (1994).

In the study by Krus and Hoehl, variables that might explain differences in incarceration rates among populations were located by a computer-aided search of the compendium of world rankings, compiled by the Facts on File Corporation and the World Model Group, containing over 50,000 records on more than 200 countries.

They argued that predictor variables explained about 69% of variance in the international incarceration rates. Cited as especially important were unequal distribution of wealth (the explanation perhaps favored by liberals
Liberalism is the belief in the importance of liberty and equal rights. Liberals espouse a wide array of views depending on their understanding of these principles, but generally, liberals support ideas such as constitutionalism, liberal democracy, free and fair elections, human rights,...

) and family disintegration (the explanation perhaps favored by conservatives
Conservatism is a political and social philosophy that promotes the maintenance of traditional institutions and supports, at the most, minimal and gradual change in society. Some conservatives seek to preserve things as they are, emphasizing stability and continuity, while others oppose modernism...

). According to Krus and Hoehl, these variables act in concert: the presence of one variable does not always precipitate crime, but the presence of both variables often does precipitate crime.

Incarceration rates by country

In many countries, it is common for prisoners to be paroled after serving as little as one third of their sentences.


In 2001 the incarceration rate in China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

 was 111 per 100,000 (sentenced prisoners only).


Denmark is a Scandinavian country in Northern Europe. The countries of Denmark and Greenland, as well as the Faroe Islands, constitute the Kingdom of Denmark . It is the southernmost of the Nordic countries, southwest of Sweden and south of Norway, and bordered to the south by Germany. Denmark...

 also has a low incarceration rate with a total of 3774 inmates in the country. Denmark has 59 people in prison for every 100,000 citizens. 62 violent crimes such as rape, murder, robbery, and aggravated assault
In law, assault is a crime causing a victim to fear violence. The term is often confused with battery, which involves physical contact. The specific meaning of assault varies between countries, but can refer to an act that causes another to apprehend immediate and personal violence, or in the more...

 were reported. There were 322 Property Crimes reported.

England and Wales

In 2006 the incarceration rate in England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 and Wales
Wales is a country that is part of the United Kingdom and the island of Great Britain, bordered by England to its east and the Atlantic Ocean and Irish Sea to its west. It has a population of three million, and a total area of 20,779 km²...

 was 139 persons imprisoned per 100,000.


In 2006 the incarceration rate in Norway
Norway , officially the Kingdom of Norway, is a Nordic unitary constitutional monarchy whose territory comprises the western portion of the Scandinavian Peninsula, Jan Mayen, and the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard and Bouvet Island. Norway has a total area of and a population of about 4.9 million...

 it is 59 inmates per 100,000.


In 2006 the incarceration rate in Australia
Australia , officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a country in the Southern Hemisphere comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It is the world's sixth-largest country by total area...

 was 163 prisoners per 100,000.

New Zealand

The rate imprisonment in New Zealand was 179 per 100,000.


India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

 has one of the lowest incarceration rates with 281,000 prisoners in their jails. This is a rate of just under 25 per 100,000; given a total population, 1,129,866,154. India reported 1,764,630 crimes in 2007. There were 236,313 assaults and 111,296 burglaries.

United States

The United States' incarceration rate is, according to official reports, the highest in the world, at 737 persons imprisoned per 100,000 (as of 2005). A report released in 2008 indicates that in the United States more than 1 in 100 adults is now confined in an American jail or prison. The United States has 4% of the world's population and 25% of the world's incarcerated population.

In the US, most states strictly limit parole
Parole may have different meanings depending on the field and judiciary system. All of the meanings originated from the French parole . Following its use in late-resurrected Anglo-French chivalric practice, the term became associated with the release of prisoners based on prisoners giving their...

, requiring that at least half of a sentence be served. For certain crimes, there is no parole and the full sentence must be served.

Incarceration and torture

Cruel treatment has long been a feature of incarceration. Taken to extremes, such treatment might be described as torture
Torture is the act of inflicting severe pain as a means of punishment, revenge, forcing information or a confession, or simply as an act of cruelty. Throughout history, torture has often been used as a method of political re-education, interrogation, punishment, and coercion...


Torture has, for much of history, been seen as a tolerable or even necessary component of imprisonment, whether performed as punishment
Punishment is the authoritative imposition of something negative or unpleasant on a person or animal in response to behavior deemed wrong by an individual or group....

 or as part of interrogation
Interrogation is interviewing as commonly employed by officers of the police, military, and Intelligence agencies with the goal of extracting a confession or obtaining information. Subjects of interrogation are often the suspects, victims, or witnesses of a crime...

. On October 28, 2010, the head of UK's MI6, Sir John Sawers, has described torture as "illegal and abhorrent".

See also

  • Detention (imprisonment)
    Detention (imprisonment)
    Detention is the process when a state, government or citizen lawfully holds a person by removing their freedom of liberty at that time. This can be due to criminal charges being raised against the individual as part of a prosecution or to protect a person or property...

  • Incapacitation (penology)
    Incapacitation (penology)
    Incapacitation in the context of sentencing philosophy refers to the effect of a sentence in terms of positively preventing future offending....

  • List of countries by incarceration rate
  • Penology
    Penology is a section of criminology that deals with the philosophy and practice of various societies in their attempts to repress criminal activities, and satisfy public opinion via an appropriate treatment regime for persons convicted of criminal offenses.The Oxford English Dictionary defines...

  • Recidivism
    Recidivism is the act of a person repeating an undesirable behavior after they have either experienced negative consequences of that behavior, or have been treated or trained to extinguish that behavior...

  • Sentencing Project
    Sentencing Project
    The Sentencing Project, based in Washington, D.C., promotes "more effective and humane" alternatives to prison for criminal offenders. It has produced several influential reports on inequalities in the U.S...

External links

  • Hudson Link for Higher Education in Prison
  • Persons Detained Statistics of incarceration ("detained") from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime
    United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime
    The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime is a United Nations agency that was established in 1997 as the Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention by combining the United Nations International Drug Control Program and the Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Division in the United Nations...

  • Race and Incarceration in the United States. Human Rights Watch
    Human Rights Watch
    Human Rights Watch is an international non-governmental organization that conducts research and advocacy on human rights. Its headquarters are in New York City and it has offices in Berlin, Beirut, Brussels, Chicago, Geneva, Johannesburg, London, Los Angeles, Moscow, Paris, San Francisco, Tokyo,...

    Press Backgrounder. February 27, 2002. Many tables.
  • Red Magazine, stories about prisoners and prison conditions
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