Prison: Evidence of its use and over-use from around the world

Published: Mar 2017

Jessica Jacobsen, Catherine Heard and Helen Fair

There is nothing inevitable about prison population growth. While there are multiple factors that directly or indirectly promote greater use of incarceration, so too there are wide-ranging moderating influences and indeed downward pressures. These downward pressures include resource constraints, for the simple reason that prisons are expensive. There is growing recognition of imprisonment’s failings as a response to social problems, and growing acceptance that many of these problems can be most effectively tackled outside the realm of criminal justice altogether. And whether overtly or covertly, and whether motivated by economic or other concerns, some states have made clear political choices to curb or reduce the use of imprisonment.

In this report the authors consider why and how, and with what effect, such choices are made, and the factors that prevent, constrain or undermine these choices.