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Countries with the Most Prisoners

Name the countries that have the largest prison populations.
Quiz by Anthony121
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Last updated: October 27, 2021
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First submittedNovember 7, 2014
Times taken71,397
Average score75.0%
Rating4.88
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#
Country
2,068,800
United States
1,690,000
China
811,707
Brazil
478,600
India
471,490
Russia
309,282
Thailand
291,198
Turkey
#
Country
266,259
Indonesia
220,866
Mexico
189,000
Iran
165,583
Philippines
147,922
South Africa
123,697
Vietnam
120,000
Egypt
#
Country
110,000
Ethiopia
109,405
Argentina
97,615
Colombia
92,000
Myanmar
87,251
Peru
84,990
Morocco
?
North Korea
+6
Level 68
Nov 20, 2015
"Capitalism, downfall..." last words of Hitchens.
+27
Level 62
Jan 8, 2018
I'm sure the socialists in Venezuela would love to hear about how Capitalism is so bad, as they scavenge through garbage and eat rats because they haven't had a meal in weeks. All the while, Venezuela sits ontop of the world's largest oil reserves with trillions of dollars of potential wealth. Wealth that a capitalist system would have tapped into years ago...
+19
Level 65
Jun 18, 2018
Nonsense! There's a lot less of that in Venezuela today than when I was there in the 1990's

The US wants to destroy Venezuela and the US media spreads misinformation about it because it wants to control the oïl and be political master of the region.

+19
Level ∞
Aug 7, 2018
I feel bad for the Venezuelans, but I do think their example is beneficial to the world. Anytime people start to think that socialism is the answer to their problems, there is a ready example of how it is definitely not. I'm reminded of this story from Ursula K. Le Guin. Venezuela suffers for our sins.
+1
Level 47
Jul 23, 2023
this reminds me of the General of Caracas, by Lachlan Page, where in one chapter two people argue over Venezuela, not cause they care about the country but because it helps them mouth piece their own political worldview
+1
Level 79
Aug 9, 2023
The situation there is an example of the Paradox of Plenty: the resource curse theory expounds a ‘paradox of plenty’ whereby states rich with natural resources experience poor economic growth and an increased likelihood of violent conflict. Within this context, natural resources (oil, minerals, diamonds, timber) are defined in terms of their role in increasing the risk of conflict or acting as an obstacle to peace
+43
Level 81
Aug 7, 2018
The problem is that people confuse "socialism" as it exists in Venezuela with "socialism" as most people in the US that actually have those leanings actually want.

Venezuela was more democratic and capitalist (though with some significant corruption) in the past - in fact, into the early 90s many businesses saw it as one of the best places in South America to invest.

What Chavez brought is realistically best described as a dictatorship trying to appease the masses with "socialist" giveaways. That never works.

What most Americans in favor of "socialism" want is something like what we see in Sweden, UK, Denmark, Canada, Germany, etc - things like universal healthcare and subsidized education - areas where capitalism simply hasn't worked. Not government control over industries like Chavez/Maduro push.

+3
Level 69
Aug 7, 2018
The dictatorship and the related corruption and inefficiency of the state-owned enterprises don't help anything. But I think the Chavez/Maduro price control system is what really sunk the country. When producing things and selling those things makes you poorer (because you can't cover the cost of production at the controlled price), you won't produce anything. People not producing valuable things = poverty.
+24
Level 90
Aug 7, 2018
It's amazing how many economists are playing this JetPunk quiz.
+12
Level 75
Aug 7, 2018
Venezuela's is a complex story. Chavez was massively popular throughout his rule: he was a gifted public figure, but also because greater public control allowed a significant redistribution of wealth. Between 1999 and 2010, overall poverty fell from 60% to 23% of the population and acute poverty from 25% to 5% - declines that were unmatched anywhere else in the world in that period. This was underwritten by rapidly rising oil prices (although that could then have produced the same outcomes in the Nigerias, Mexicos, and Kuwaits of the world, which didn't happen). Other problems persisted: overseas (U.S. antagonism to Bolivarianism); regional (the move across the border of Colombian drug networks); and domestic (opposition from wealthier and Whiter Venezuelans). Chavez died right at the time of the collapse of oil prices. That, combined with Maduro's inability to manage the ongoing challenges, has hollowed out the promise many Venezuelans once fought for vigorously.
+8
Level ∞
Aug 7, 2018
I think that's a fair statement @shortyoh. Many people want high taxes and free government health care, and those are reasonable desires. The dictionary definition of socialism is different though. To quote Wikipedia, socialism is "social ownership and workers' self-management of the means of production". I think if people are calling for "socialism", they should be very clear about what they want. Countries like Norway aren't socialist by the textbook definition. They are capitalist with high levels of taxation and social services. Which has been a successful model.
+7
Level 67
Jan 8, 2019
This problem with the definition of ideologies leads to a lot of confusion. Socialism as it was used by Marx was the transitionary period from capitalism to communism after the workers had first gained control of the state apparatus. But now it is used in both the ways referred to by shortyoh and Quizmaster. A similar state of confusion exists with the terms Liberalism and Neo-Liberalism. The early classical liberals such as Hobbes, Locke, Bentham and James Mill; favoured small government, low taxes, and placed paramount importance on individual liberty. The next wave of Liberal theorists, such as John Stuart Mill, advocated the state as needing to provide a social safety net, because you could not claim people were bad simply because they were not good at the game of capitalism. As well as that it was seen as good to provide funding to education to try to ensure a level playing field because this ensured you made full utilization of society's human potential.
+1
Level 55
Jan 30, 2024
Well made comment, but I don't think that Hobbes belongs in the liberal camp. His argument was that it was necessary to give up freedom to a mighty government (Leviathan) in order to ensure security.
+3
Level 67
Jan 8, 2019
These theorists were originally referred to as neo or revisionist liberals. And as we see from the comment from shortyoh, some people equate this with socialism. Nowadays, we see neo liberals being referred to as liberals who support laissez faire economics and small government; what was actually supported by classical liberals, and quite the opposite to what use to be referred to as neo-liberalism. You also see the terms neo liberal and neo conservative used interchangeably when traditionally a liberal and a conservative, as seen in the writing of someone such as Edmund Burke, were once two very distinctive ideologies.
+4
Level 48
Feb 17, 2019
If you have a dictatorship, it doesn't matter if it is socialist, communist, capitalist, etc.
+1
Level 77
Nov 9, 2021
stubart409: "Early classical liberals such as Hobbes, Locke, Bentham and James Mill; favoured small government...". What? Hobbes believed in absolute monarchy and thought humans were wretched, selfish creatures who needed to be controlled at every turn. How is he the first person you listed when randomly picking classical liberals?
+3
Level 73
Nov 16, 2021
I'm Colombian –I know that that doesn't necessarily qualify me to talk about this subject but I've been following the Venezuelan situation closely for many years– and @tshalla got it right. Saying socialism=bad and capitalism=good is a very childish and simplistic reading of the situation.
+1
Level 73
Aug 16, 2022
Thank you Federico for one of the only comments here I can get behind.

Socialism and capitalism both take prisoners. I'm not going to say they're "the same", because they aren't, but a lot of people on both sides seem to cherry-pick their examples, with socialists decrying anything that fails as "not real socialism" despite its obvious inspiration, and capitalists only talking about the rich countries at the top of global markets while ignoring all the people suffering in the countries at bottom to sustain it.

+1
Level 66
May 12, 2020
socialism is when you have more private industry then Norway /s

Venezuela would have failed if it was (more) capitalist, their problem was dependence on oil prices staying high to maintain economic prosperity.

+3
Level 70
Nov 8, 2021
They wouldn't have failed to the same degree. Plenty of other countries are dependent on oil and none collapsed the way Venezuela did. The biggest problem was their artificial price controls that dramatically suppressed production.
+2
Level 43
Dec 16, 2022
Many countries that have large reserves of oil suffer from something called the "Oil Curse." This happened in Libya and other countries. Norway found a way around it but not all countries do.
+3
Level 69
Nov 20, 2015
China and NK in brackets, a classic
+2
Level 35
Nov 20, 2015
woah... PEru!
+8
Level 44
Aug 7, 2018
I hope the majority of their prison population consists of those annoying pan flute bands
+3
Level 64
Nov 19, 2020
But then the guinea pigs come out.
+7
Level 65
Nov 20, 2015
So the good old USA tops out on another statistic....
+1
Level 71
Nov 20, 2015
I thought it was China?
+1
Level 30
Nov 24, 2015
What about Japan or germany
+4
Level 63
Jan 24, 2017
The list in the source has changed a bit since the quiz was made. Atm Germany is at #26 and Japan at #34.
+4
Level 66
Mar 15, 2016
There are more Prisoners in the world then what there is people living in Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Iceland combined :O
+31
Level 89
Jun 16, 2018
There are more people sleeping in Tokyo now than there are people in Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Iceland combined :O
+8
Level 79
Nov 9, 2019
Not necessarily, if it is day-time in Tokyo.
+32
Level 82
Jun 16, 2018
There are more ukulele players in Oahu than there are penguins living in Mongolia, Moldova, Malawi, Somalia, and the planet Mars combined.
+3
Level 72
Aug 7, 2019
There's also more of me than there are penguins on Mars!
+2
Level 73
Aug 16, 2022
That's what you think P3nguin 😳
+4
Level 79
Nov 9, 2019
It's than, not 'then'; remove the redundant 'what'; and it's are, not 'is'.
+1
Level 67
Nov 8, 2021
Three grammatical errors in one sentence should be a jail-able offense.
+2
Level 69
Sep 26, 2016
I'm in Morocco (though not a Moroccan) but didn't know that about the country. Wow! Weird for an Arab, relatively stable country to have quite a large number of prisoners.
+2
Level 34
Aug 22, 2017
Now i now what was up with the turkish coup ... they wanted to get better rank in this list :)
+31
Level 75
Oct 1, 2017
I'm surprised Australia isn't on this list. I thought it was a requirement to live there. :)
+1
Level 71
Jun 16, 2018
where did you get that idea from?
+2
Level 82
Jun 18, 2018
It's just an unimaginative joke
+13
Level 90
Jun 30, 2018
Australia was founded and settled by British convicts.
+2
Level 67
Jan 8, 2019
Saying it was 'founded' by British convicts implies they chose to go there of their own volition. It was the British Government that sent them there.
+1
Level 79
Nov 9, 2019
@comjag Australia was not founded by British convicts. Also, there were British settlers who were not convicts.
+1
Level 47
Jul 23, 2023
go South Australia!!!! no convict heritage here!!!
+1
Level 55
Apr 4, 2024
Why would it be?
+8
Level 52
Oct 19, 2017
These kind of quizes should always be per capita. Its boring that always answers are same most populous countries.
+5
Level 82
Jun 16, 2018
It doesn't line up exactly, but, yes, on this quiz per capita would be more revealing.
+6
Level 76
Aug 7, 2018
It would change things, but the USA still tops the list.
+2
Level 67
Nov 8, 2021
:O
+1
Level 38
Mar 24, 2018
1st Should Be South Sudan (Somalia)
+19
Level 77
Jun 16, 2018
Huh? Those are two different countries and not even neighbours.
+6
Level 79
Nov 9, 2019
No actually it should be China (North Korea).
+8
Level 70
Apr 24, 2020
Actually it should be Ecuador (Equatorial Guinea)
+2
Level 58
Nov 8, 2021
Should be Mars (the Moon)
+1
Level 77
Jun 16, 2018
per capita numbers would be more interesting. You can get most of these by just guessing the countries with the highest population.
+1
Level 80
Jun 16, 2018
Disgraceful.
+2
Level 60
Jun 16, 2018
Seems like Duterte is helping those numbers go up.
+2
Level 76
Jun 17, 2018
2,121,600 United States

1,649,804 China

Look at the percentages. The USA has 350million and China has about 1.5billion people.

China's percentage of crime seems very low -- actually, correction. What I should say is the USA has the highest percentage of crime in the world.

+8
Level 84
Jun 19, 2018
Just because the USA is big, that doesn't mean it has "the highest percentage of crime in the world." You're just letting your emotions get in the way of the facts. The US rate is nowhere near countries like South Africa, Honduras, Venezuela, Belize, and even India.
+4
Level 78
Aug 7, 2018
Granted, this should be per capita, but US is still number one. From a BBC report: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/shared/spl/hi/uk/06/prisons/html/nn2page1.stm
+7
Level ∞
Aug 7, 2018
Arguably, countries like Guatemala would be much better off with a higher prison population. The fact that murders go unpunished is a large contributor to the ridiculously high murder rates in Central America.
+6
Level 75
Aug 8, 2018
One also should take some critical distance from the term "crime." Crimes reflect behaviors that ruling classes wish to discourage. In some cases (e.g. murder), there's near unanimity that such acts deserve punishment. In others (e.g. smoking marijuana, sodomy, critical journalism, begging, espousing Kurdish or Uyghur nationalism), there's not. The same can be said for types of punishment and their severity. The primacy of prisons as a form of punishment and the lengthening of sentences, of course, increase prison populations.
+6
Level 39
Jan 31, 2019
Actually USA has higher crime rate than India. It has higher violent crime rate and murder rate.

Source : https://www.nationmaster.com/country-info/compare/India/United-States/Crime

+2
Level 71
May 30, 2021
Quote from the source: "The Deputy Procurator-General of the Supreme People's Procuratorate reported in 2009 that, in addition to the sentenced prisoners, more than 650,000 were held in detention centres In China; if this was still correct in 2018 the total prison population in China was at least 2,360,000. In addition, it is widely reported that about a million Uighur Muslims are detained in camps in Xinjiang province; no reliable figures are available."

While even if you include Uighurs and political prisoners, China's numbers won't be close to America's per-capita, it's worth pointing out that the numbers for China are probably higher than they appear.

+3
Level ∞
Aug 7, 2018
The U.S. murder rate is less than 1/10th that of the worst countries. We do, however, have a crime rate that is fairly high for industrial countries, as well as a large population and a functioning legal system. Combine those factors to arrive at our large prison population. However, the prison population of the United States is declining.
+6
Level 82
Aug 7, 2018
I think that "functioning" might be too strong of a word for the US criminal justice system. Granted, other countries have it worse. There are places where the justice system is more corrupt, more inept, more oppressive and less fair. And there are places where there just isn't a justice system or isn't much of one that are close to being lawless. But the US system still completely sucks. For many different reasons. and the US prison population is still ridiculously high, a lot of which has to do with the misguided and poorly implemented "war on drugs."
+6
Level ∞
Aug 8, 2018
I'm definitely not a fan of the war on drugs, but it's a bit of a myth that drug dealers / drug users are filling up our prisons. Most people in the prison system are there because of violent crimes. However, it is true that many people commit assaults and murders while participating in the drug trade. If we legalized most drugs, we would probably see a lower rate of violent crime. I think it's something we should consider. On the other hand, it's better to imprison violent criminals than to let them go free.
+8
Level 82
Aug 8, 2018
Do you think it's also a myth that a for-profit prison system incentivizes harsher than needed sentencing and denials of deserved paroles? And what about the effectiveness of the penal system as a tool for rehabilitation?

Having been through the justice system myself before (for some pretty petty crap, and more than once when I was innocent), and screwed over royally each time by kangaroo courts that don't seem to give a crap about justice but only care about conviction rates and squeezing money out of people to pay for themselves, I might have a less rosy picture of the whole thing than most. I've also worked along side cops before. Most were scumbags. The good ones drop out or they get beaten down by the system until they lose their ideals and become a part of said system. Same goes for judges. The whole system is focused on the wrong things and aimed in the wrong direction.

And.. yes, drugs ought to be legalized. And I say this as someone who has never used any.

+4
Level 67
Nov 8, 2021
I think that "active" might be a better term than "functioning".

That's all I have to say about this.

+4
Level 67
Aug 7, 2018
Highest percentage of prisoners and highest percentage of crime are not the same thing. And "crime" is dependent on the country in which the act is committed. Only a handful of crimes (mostly violent offenses, fraud, theft, etc.) are illegal in most places. I believe about half of U.S. prisoners are serving time for drug-related offenses. I'm not saying that drugs are fine, but I'd prefer to live in a society in which 10% of people are drug offenders than one in which 3% of people are murderers.

I'm not trying to defend the US and its egregious incarceration numbers. I am merely pointing out that the statistic on which this quiz focuses is not a simple indicator of anything. It's the result of a lot of different factors.

+2
Level ∞
Aug 8, 2018
Most people in U.S. prisons are not there for drugs. I wish it were true, because then it'd be an easy problem to solve. But it's not. The U.S. prison population is a reflection of the high rate of violent crime.
+5
Level 82
Aug 8, 2018
I'm looking at the pie chart you linked to QM and I think jmellor still has a point. The stat that's often thrown out there about drug offenders can be considered misleading because it only includes people in federal prison, where you've got 180,000 people locked up for non-violent crimes (more than half for drugs) and a measly 14,000 for violent crimes. It's easy to find fault with this because local jails and state prisons make up a much bigger piece of the pie than federal prisons. However, even at the state level barely half of all prisoners are there for violent crimes. And you've got 46,000 people locked up for drug possession- I know it's not a huge percentage of the total but that's still a travesty.
+5
Level 74
Jun 18, 2018
It should be noted that a significant portion of those listed in U.S. prisons are actually in local jails (about 600,000 people). A number of groups fall into this category: those awaiting trial, those serving out misdemeanor sentences, those awaiting transfer to a prison. The total U.S. prison population usually includes these people, as well as things like youth detention centers, immigration detainees, and Indian reservation jail/prisons as well. The actual number of people that are in what is usually understood by state and federal prison is about 1.5 million.
+2
Level 79
Jul 5, 2018
A cell is a cell
+2
Level 84
Jun 19, 2018
An interesting article for any who are wondering why the US has such a large prison population (for the record, it wasn't always that way). https://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/crime/2015/02/mass_incarceration_a_provocative_new_theory_for_why_so_many_americans_are.html
+5
Level 52
Aug 7, 2018
Australia? We have 25 million convicts here!
+1
Level 82
Jan 8, 2019
The sins of the fathers?
+2
Level 65
Aug 7, 2018
Disappointed to see the UK there, the only western/european country (apart the obvious No.1!!). Our policy clearly needs a rethink
+2
Level 65
Aug 7, 2018
That was my reaction. I was actually trying out “Ukraine” when I got the answer
+2
Level 78
Aug 7, 2018
Another very good example of a stat that should be presented as PER CAPITA do be meaningful. To check that out further (spoiler alert: US still NUMER ONE): http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/shared/spl/hi/uk/06/prisons/html/nn2page1.stm
+1
Level 61
Aug 7, 2018
Shameful
+1
Level 64
Aug 7, 2018
100%!!! YES!
+2
Level 71
Aug 13, 2019
What's the deal with Thailand? It's #6 but doesn't have a population nearly as large as the top 5 countries.
+2
Level 82
Aug 13, 2019
Per capita they're pretty much in line with Russia, actually. 60+ million people in Thailand. The country is pretty lax about some things, pretty strict about some other things including drug offences which is what accounts for at least half of the prison population. Almost 5% of those in Thai prisons are foreigners.
+1
Level 73
Dec 29, 2019
My last one was Iran
+1
Level 63
Feb 20, 2020
I was missing two, one of which was in parentheses so I had to guess North Korea and bingo!
+2
Level 95
Apr 26, 2020
Murica!
+3
Level 56
Apr 27, 2020
100% get USA, 99% get Earth on the Planets quiz. The US is always at the top of the list, that's for sure...
+1
Level 57
May 30, 2020
Peru kinda shocked me
+3
Level 39
Mar 18, 2021
Really funny how America claims to be all about freedom but has almost 1% of its population in prison
+2
Level 67
Nov 8, 2021
I'm not saying that our justice system is good, but laws and liberty are not exactly antonyms.
+1
Level 57
Apr 20, 2021
Almost forgot China..
+2
Level 83
Nov 8, 2021
You can get all of these by just ticking off countries that hit the criteria of "large population", "oppressive", or both.
+1
Level 67
Nov 8, 2021
Basically
+2
Level 66
Nov 8, 2021
Only missed Myanmar...It'll always be Burma to me...
+1
Level 67
Nov 8, 2021
Missed Philippines and Peru
+1
Level 76
Nov 8, 2021
So are we counting “re-education camps” or do those apparently not exist
+3
Level 67
Nov 8, 2021
If you want to count those you should probaby count the concentration camps for immigrants in the US too.
+1
Level 22
Nov 8, 2021
i finished on 2:05
+2
Level 63
Nov 8, 2021
For the land of the freeeee.....!
+1
Level 63
Nov 8, 2021
The only thing that stops countries like Pakistan or Saudi Arabia being on this list, is that they kill their atheists and sodomites instead. Prison - what's that?
+1
Level 61
Nov 8, 2021
very sad.
+1
Level 50
Nov 11, 2021
Forgot Australia

It has 25,898,976 prisoners

+1
Level 55
Apr 4, 2024
What drugs are you on? We're have a lot of freedom here, more than some other certain countries that shall remain nameless.
+5
Level 51
Nov 11, 2021
Just another thing the US shares with totalitarian countries. Proud to be an American!!!
+1
Level 52
Jan 14, 2022
got Thailand because I remembered the ¨DONT DISRESPECT THE KING¨ rule
+1
Level 45
Mar 11, 2022
north korea has 25mil already
+2
Level 46
May 27, 2022
wait isn't Australia supposed to be first, there national statistics list a population of 27.1 Million...?
+1
Level 55
Apr 4, 2024
It's so bizarre that Americans (assuming you are one) think we live in some strict penal colony and are all descendants of a handful of convicts. Newsflash - we have just as much freedom than US citizens and there were many more convicts that were settled in the US than here when the British arrived. A very quick search will prove that.
+1
Level 73
Apr 28, 2023
I would estimate 26 million for North Korea.
+1
Level 76
May 19, 2023
first place obviously goes to north korea, get your facts right!!1!1!!!1!
+1
Level 66
May 23, 2023
The USA has a large problem of crime rates of minorities, and illegal aliens. It'd be interesting to see the statistics of their prison populations. I guess various interest groups try to manipulate terms like "white", or "hispanic", to try and obfuscate data. My guess is that one reason the country ranks so highly, is due to their fiscal ability to police & convict (when the political will exists).

https://cde.ucr.cjis.gov/LATEST/webapp/#/pages/explorer/crime/crime-trend

If anything, the USA should probably be imprisoning more criminals, if they had a more just system.

+1
Level 42
Nov 15, 2023
I will win