About 5 percent of the world's women live in the United States, but America accounts for 30 percent of the world's population of incarcerated women.
This shocking statistic comes from a new report by the Prison Policy Initiative, which found that the US incarceration rate for women — 127 per 100,000 — tops every country except Thailand.
To put that in perspective, the Prison Policy Initiative put together a chart that shows how the US compares with some of its developed peers in NATO:
Part of the difference is explained by crime rates: The US has much higher levels of homicides (a proxy for violent crime) — and gun violence in particular — than other developed nations, so it likely needs to incarcerate more people in general.
But it's also true that women have been hit particularly hard by the war on drugs and other crackdowns on nonviolent crime in the past few decades. The Bureau of Justice Statistics found, for example, that 24 percent of women in state prisons were in for drug offenses and 28.4 percent were convicted for property crimes, compared with 15.1 percent and 18.6 percent, respectively, for men. And based on older BJS data, the total prison population rose by 8.6 times for women between 1980 and 2014 but 4.6 times for men in the same time period.
Now, women still make up a much smaller portion of the prison system overall — BJS estimated that 7.2 percent of people in US prisons in 2014 were women. But that difference between male and female incarceration is broadly true around the world, so the US is still a big outlier when it comes to the number of women in prisons and jails. The Prison Policy Initiative report, then, exposes yet another symptom of America's mass incarceration problem.