RIO DE JANEIRO – Some prisons are worse then others, and some places are especially scary. As a child I saw “Midnight Express” (1978) when I was way too young, and “Kiss of the Spider Woman” (1985) was also memorable – set in a South American prison.

Stone Korshak, Managing Editor and Publisher of The Rio Times.

Like so many public and social services, developing countries struggle to uphold “humane” conditions in their prisons. Although I have a friend in Rio with a brother in jail (for minor drug distribution), and she was sending him a small TV for his birthday along with white TShirts.

I didn’t ask too many questions, for fear of the answers, but was a little surprised about the TV.

For most of history, apparently, imprisoning was a way to confine criminals until punishment was administered. Dungeons were used to hold prisoners; waiting to be killed or sometimes left to die. In other cases debtors were often thrown into debtor’s prisons, until they paid their jailers enough money.

It was in the 19th century, beginning in Britain, when the notion of prisoners being incarcerated as part of their punishment and not simply as a holding state until trial or hanging. The first “modern” prisons were sometimes known by the term “penitentiary” – as the name suggests, the goal of these facilities was that of penance.

As of 2006, it is estimated that at least 9.25 million people are currently imprisoned worldwide, although it may be much higher considering the under-reporting and a lack of data from various countries, especially authoritarian regimes.

The United States currently has the largest inmate population in the world, with more than 2.5 million, or more than one in a hundred adults in prison and jails. Although the United States represents less than 5 percent of the world’s population, over 25 percent of the people incarcerated around the world are housed in the American prison system.

In 2002, both Russia and China also had prison populations in excess of 1 million. By October 2006, the Russian prison population declined to 869,814 which translated into 611 prisoners per 100,000 population.

In March 2007, the United Kingdom had 80,000 inmates (up from 73,000 in 2003 and 44,000 in 1985) in its facilities, one of the highest rates among the western members of the European Union (EU) (a record formerly held by Portugal).

The high proportion of prisoners in some developed countries, especially U.S., is related to drug use – where over 50 percent of inmates are drug related, according to U.S. Department of Justice.

In many undeveloped countries, rates of incarceration are often lower, having less goods to steal and less judicial law-enforcement. Also let’s face it, incarcerations is a wealthy society’s solution to punishment.

According to the American Corrections Association, the average daily cost per state prison inmate per day in the U.S. is $67.55.

There are more than 420,000 prisoners in Brazil, in 1,050 institutions built to hold a total of 262,000 inmates.

World map showing number of prisoners per 100,000 citizens, image by Sbw01f/Wikimedia Creative Commons License.


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