China may soon surpass the United States in the number of women it puts behind bars. The Asian Pacific Conference of Correctional Administrators finds that by the middle of last year, China had more than 107,000 women in prison, up 3.2 percent from the previous year. By comparison, federal and state facilities in the US housed just over 110,000 women in prison at the beginning of 2015 (according to the US Bureau of Justice Statistics' analysis tool).
The number of women in Chinese prisons has now risen more than 50 percent since 2003. These figures exclude women held in detention centers or other facilities run by China’s public security bureaus (e.g., custody and education, mandatory drug rehabilitation, and legal education). If these facilities were included, the number of women China incarcerates would likely have already exceeded that of the United States.
Women now make up 6.5 percent of China’s general prison population, compared with 7.2 percent of total prisoners in the United States. Hong Kong and Macau—special administrative regions which are not included in China’s statistics—have the largest portions of incarcerated women in the world. As of mid-2014, the World Prison Brief noted that Hong Kong imprisoned the largest proportion of women (19.4 percent) within its total prison population than any other country with a population of at least 60,000. In the past year, however, Hong Kong was surpassed by Macau, whose prison population as of mid-2015 is comprised of 21 percent women.
Promoting the Bangkok Rules
Worldwide, the number of women in prison has increased 50 percent since 2000, compared with 18 percent growth for men, according to the Institute for Criminal Policy Research. As more women enter the criminal justice system, the UN Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-custodial Measures for Women Offenders (Bangkok Rules) become increasingly important as a framework for meeting the physical and psychological needs of women in penal systems built for men.
Aiming to improve legal outcomes for women in Chinese-speaking areas of the world, Dui Hua has just released a Chinese translation of an e-course on sections of the Bangkok Rules regarding non-custodial measures. Starting in 2016, Dui Hua began distributing the translation as a training guide for legal officials in China. The translation is based on Penal Reform International’s e-course “Women in Detention: Putting the UN Bangkok Rules into Practice,” already available in English, Arabic, and Russian.
Non-custodial measures help reduce the social and psychological repercussions of legal sanctions by keeping families together and reducing the risk of additional trauma for women who are survivors of gender-based violence.