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Prisoner Rates: Global Trends and Local Exceptions (From Annual Report for 2002 and Resource Material Series No. 61, P 37-60, 2003 -- See NCJ-205803)

NCJ Number
Tapio Lappi-Seppala
Date Published
September 2003
24 pages
This paper analyzes global trends and local exceptions in prisoner rates.
The growth of prison populations is reviewed for 35 countries, based on the 2001 edition of the World Prison Population List, published by the British Home Office. More than 8.75 million people are helped in penal institutions around the world; over half of these prisoners are in the United States, Russia, and China. The variation in prison population rates locally and worldwide is examined, followed by a general overview of the reasons for the prison population growth, which are anchored in technical, ideological, political, social, economic, and cultural explanations. The second section of the paper examines the dramatic reduction in the Finnish prison population between the 1950’s and the 1990’s. Contributing factors are examined including factors relating to ideology, law reforms, and sentencing policies and trends for adults and juveniles in Finland. Finnish initiatives involving drunk driving prevention, parole, and sentencing alternatives such as community service orders are described as integral to the reduction of the prison population. In the third section, the author analyzes data on prisoner rates and reported crime in Finland, Sweden, Denmark, and Norway from 1950 to 1997 in an effort to draw conclusions regarding the effects of imprisonment on reported crime. The analysis reveals what previous research has suggested -- that sentencing policies and crime rates are independent of one another. Finally, the fourth section offers a discussion that concludes the long-term reduction in the Finnish prison population was the result of systematic criminal policy. However, Finland is increasingly expressing signs that a populist punitive approach may be taking hold, which could result in policies that increase the prison population in this nation. Further, as pressures increase for countries within the European Union to harmonize criminal law, greater risk exists of wide-spread increased penal repression. Figures, references, appendix