International Prisons South Africa Brazil and India

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International Prisons: South Africa, Brazil, and India

CRJ613: Comparative Criminal Justice Systems

Once a crime has been committed, the next step in the criminal justice process is the punishment phase. The two main punishments that tend to be given internationally are community service and prison. The length of prison sentences vary greatly when it comes to different countries. It has been reported that the size of the world prison population has increased by approximately 10% since 2004 (Allen, 2015). In this paper three countries; South Africa, Brazil, and India, will be evaluated that represent the high, middle, and low levels of imprisonment rates.

In South Africa, The Department of Correctional Services enforce prison rules throughout the country. Prison populations have dropped in South Africa since 2004, there are more than 160,000 people held in facilities with an authorized capacity of about 118,000—a 137 percent overcrowding level. The prisons themselves range in size from ones holding about 30 prisoners to others with a rated capacity around 2,000—but an actual capacity often exceeding 4,000 (Reichel, 2013). The prisons in South Africa are well known as being atrocious and usually viewed as overpopulated, understaffed, and brimming with human rights violations. The problems of overcrowding in South African prisons often stem from an entrenched gang culture. The Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services (JICS) assigns most of South Africa’s prison overcrowding issues to the minimum sentencing legislation that was introduced in 1998. Sexual harassment of female inmates, autocratic behavior by correctional officers, inmates forced to sleep in shifts for lack of adequate sleeping space, and the threatened use of rape by HIV-positive prisoners as a means of gang control are examples of reports that confront South African prison officials (Reichel, 2013).

In the past Brazil’s prisons have been viewed as inhumane, immoral, and degrading. Brazil’s prisons have severe overcrowding and horrible detention environments that range from the infestation of rats and rabid pigeons to the infliction of pain and control of prisons by gangs. That situation led Human Rights Watch to identify Brazil’s prisons as one of the country’s main human rights problems—noting that national and international sources agree that prisons and other places of detention hold inmates in scandalously abusive conditions (World Report, 2011). Even though Brazil ranks in the middle when it comes to country statistics of imprisonment rates, the country actually has one of the world’s biggest penal systems. Brazil’s prison population is that of nearly 500,000 whom of which are housed in facilities that can only hold about 300, 000. This leads to a 166 percent occupancy level causing further problems within Brazil’s prison facilities. Reasons for Brazil’s prisons being overcrowded are similar to South Africa’s. Their crime rates have increased due to “get tough” legislation that placed more convicted offenders in prison for longer time periods. Instead of using the limited prison capacity for dangerous offenders, approximately 30 percent of convicted offenders committed crimes categorized as drug associated, theft, or “other.”

In India there are 7 union territories/jurisdictions that are administered over as well as have responsibility for the prison/jails in their territory. India has relatively low imprisonment numbers in comparison with other countries. India’s total population is over 1 billion people and of that there are less than 380,000 inmates. Even with those low numbers in comparison to the actual population, they’re prisons are still overcrowded. The given capacity of India’s nearly 1,400 prisons is approximately 300,000 which results in an occupancy rate of approximately 126 percent. parent human rights abuses. The U.S. Department of State reports that prison conditions in India are harsh, life-threatening, and fail to meet international standards (, 2011). Continual inefficiencies in India’s judicial system produced many cases wherein detainees served more time in jail while being held in pretrial detention than they would have served with a guilty verdict and sentencing to the longest possible term. Many of India’s prisons were built in the nineteenth century; are in dilapidated condition; lack basic amenities; and, at least in some prisons, are so overcrowded that inmates reportedly must sleep while sitting up (Wadhawan, 2005).

While South Africa, Brazil, and India all suffer from prison overcrowding due to them holding both pretrial prisoners and convicted offenders. Prison overcrowding is also the cause of inferior prison environments, and generally increasing disapproval within both the country as well as internationally.


Human Rights Watch, “Behind Bars in Brazil,” accessed August 30, 2011,; Human Rights Watch, “Universal Periodic Review of Brazil,” last modified April 6, 2008,; Human Rights Watch, World Report 2011 (New York, NY: Author, 2011),

U.S. Department of State, “India: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices,” accessed August 30, 2011,

Junie Wadhawan, “Prison Overcrowding—an Overview,” Krodhi Praja Nyayadhisha 2, no. 5/6, last modified March 15, 2005,

Reichel, P. L. (2013). Comparative criminal justice systems: A topical approach (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.

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