How Has the Female Prison Population Changed over Time?

The female prison population in the United States increased by more than 800 percent between 1977 and the late 2000s, and in 2011, women were jailed at a rate eight times that of the incarceration rate of 1979. Worldwide, about 500,000 women and girls are imprisoned — about a third of which are incarcerated in the United States. China, the Russian Federation and Thailand have the next-highest populations of female prisoners and account for about another one-third. They are followed by India, the Ukraine and Vietnam.

More facts about female prisoners:

  • Ten times more women were sent to state prisons for drug crimes in the U.S. in 1996 than in 1986.

  • More than half of the United States' female prison population is made up of black women, who are eight times more likely to be jailed than Caucasian women. Latinas are incarcerated at about four times the rate of Caucasian women.

  • The country with the highest percentage of prisoners who are women is Hong Kong, where women made up about 22 percent of the prison population in 2011. In the U.S., women made up about 8.5 percent of the prison population.

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