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Feature article: Custodial Crisis? An international review of growing prison populations

By Gustav Tallving, Department Manager, Swedish Prison and Probation Services


More than 10 million people worldwide are incarcerated in remand centres or prisons. Since the turn of the millennium the world prison population has increased by 20 percent, somewhat exceeding the global population growth of 18 percent. The trend varies within and between continents. In Oceania, for example, the number of incarcerated persons has increased by 60 percent, whereas in North and South America combined it has risen by 40 percent. In Europe, the prison population has declined in recent years, primarily due to declines in Russia and otherEast European countries.

The Swedish Prison and Probation Service (SPPS) has been working on current and future capacity issues, as overlooking a growing prison population could have serious consequences. Overcrowding in remand or prison directly affects the staff and the inmates’ every day life; it also impairs the ability of the SPPS to carry out its mission – namely, to execute sanctions in a secure and humane manner and to reduce the risk of recidivism.

In its White Paper on Prison Overcrowding the Council of Europe describes several negative consequences of overcrowding:

In addition, the Swedish experience of escapes and violent extractions in 2004 from the SPPS show that overcrowding makes the differentiation of inmates more difficult, which affects security throughout the service. In addition, the maintenance of the real estate is also affected, which has major operational and long term financial consequences.

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