Facts about Prison
Facts about Prison

27 Surprising Prison Facts

Karin Lehnardt
By Karin Lehnardt, Senior Writer
Published December 21, 2019
  • There are more than 2.2 million prisoners in the United States of America and more than 1.65 million in China.[15]
  • The world prison population rate, based on United Nations estimates of national population levels, is 144 per 100,000.[15]
  • Since 2000, the total number of women serving time in the United States has increased by about 50%, while the male prison population has grown about 18%.[15]
  • Since the year 2000, the world prison population has grown by almost 20%.[15]
  • American Prison Facts
    The United States locks up more people than any other country in the world
  • The highest prison rates in the world are in the United States, at 724 people per 100,000. In Russia, the rate is 581.[15]
  • The United States contains almost a quarter of the world's population. However, the US only contains about 5% of the world's prison population.[15]
  • In the United States, over 1 million arrests per year are for drug possession, which is four times greater than the number of arrests for drug sales.[13]
  • Just 23% of released prisoners stay out of prison.[13]
  • African Americans are sent to prison at a rate that is just over 5 times higher than for whites. In some states, they are 10 times more likely to be sent to prison.[13]
  • The United States prison system costs an estimated $80 billion per year.[13]
  • Transgender adults and LGBTQI youth are disproportionately imprisoned. An estimated 16% of trans people have been incarcerated, compared to 2.7% of all adults. About 13–15% of young people in detention identify as LGBTQI.[13]
  • Each day, 12 people die in the United States prison system, or about 4,400 per year. In state and federal prisons, most deaths are health related, such as from cancer and heart disease. In local prisons, the top cause is suicide.[13]
  • The now infamous Stanford Prison Experiment, involving fake prisoners and guards, investigated the psychological effects of perceived power.[4]
  • It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones

    - Nelson Mandela

  • The first 72 hours after a person is booked into jail is when they're at the highest risk of death.[3]
  • Men's Central Jail in Los Angeles is the world's largest jail system, with over 22,000 inmates.[3]
  • Oklahoma recently surpassed Louisiana as the prison capital of the world. With a rate of 1,079 people per 100,000 behind bars, Oklahoma has the highest incarceration rate in the country.[14]
  • Even though countries such as El Salvador, Panama, Costa Rica, and Brazil have murder rates over twice the rate of the United States, each has a significantly lower incarceration rate, and, in some cases, less than half.[14]
  • Texas allowed whipping as a punishment in its prisons until 1941. Arkansas prisons allowed it until 1967.[1]
  • In Brazil, some inmates have the opportunity to reduce their sentences by reading books and writing book reports. They can reduce their sentence by up to 4 days (up to 48 days per year) for each book they read.[11]
  • In one of the worst prison disasters in US history, 322 inmates were killed and 150 injured when a fire broke out in the Ohio State Penn on April 21, 1930. When some guards refused to let inmates out of their cells, other inmates overpowered the guards to rescue fellow prisoners.[10]
  • Ohio Prison Scandals
    The prison had been built for 1,500 inmates; at the time of the fire, it held 4,300

  • The man who killed and ate the last Indochinese tiger in China was sentenced to 12 years in jail.[9]
  • "The Hole" is a prison where Scientology executives are sent to prison for religious discipline. There, they would stayed for months or years of manual labor, humiliation, or solitary confinement. Ex-members compare "The Hole" to a North Korean death camp.[7]
  • When American psychologist Timothy Leary arrived at prison in 1971, he knew how to answer the psychology tests inmates take because he helped design some of the questions. He manipulated the answers to get a gardening job, a position he used to escape.[2]
  • Alcatraz was once the only federal prison to offer hot-water showers. They were installed so that prisoners would get used to hot water; thus, they would find the cold water of San Francisco Bay impossible to endure if they tried to swim to freedom.[6]
  • The only fence keeping inmates in the Suomenlinna Prison in Finland is a yellow picket fence. The warden eventually had to lock the gate because people kept trying to get in.[5]
  • Finland Prison
    A prison so popular that it turns people away

  • In China, rich people can hire body doubles to serve their prison sentences.[12]
  • Josef Mengele, a Nazi prison camp physician during WW II, was infamous for experimenting on twins, people with heterochromia iridum (eyes of two different colors), dwarfs, pregnant women, and those with physical abnormalities.[8]

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