How many prisons is too many?

Article written by
Emma Thorpe
September 7, 2022

Across the world there are literally thousands of prisons, with new ones being built at an alarming rate and prison populations continuing to grow in many parts of the world. The current global prison population stands at an estimated 11.5 million [Prison populations and overcrowding]. So how many prisons house these prisoners? Well, when trying to find an estimated figure of how many prisons there are across the world, there is no one answer. Instead, there is a minefield of statistics and countries lists of individual prisons. It can get pretty complicated when comparing prisons based on the number of prison facilities as there are contributing factors and many of these are relative to a country’s population and land mass. To get a sound overview of the true extent of the number of physical prisons around the world, the best approach is to select a country, state, island(s) or continent, do the research and make comparisons. Of course, this information is reliant on the disclosure of information from various countries and is fairly subjective.


The Solomon Islands are made up of 992 islands and have only 6 prisons with around 500 total inmates. Their general population is small but it would appear that they don’t seem to be incarcerating people and building prisons at an incomprehensible rate. In fact, maybe 6 prisons seems excessive for the number of prisoners they actually have but this can be interpreted to represent their humane approach to prisons and makes it easy to believe that they don’t have an issue with overcrowding. A government report in 2021 showed that there were no significant reports or major concerns regarding prison facilities in the Solomon Islands. In contrast, the Cayman Islands have 312 prisoners spread across their 2 prisons, with plans to build a third all-inclusive prison. However, there are concerns in the Cayman Islands about the humane housing of their prisoners with many cells not being fit for habitation and a lack of services available to help the prisoners and in this example, it would appear that 2 prisons is simply not enough.


In the last update of the figures, in England and Wales alone there are 117 prisons. England and Wales have a combined population of around 59,597,300 in the 2021 census. This sounds like an unreasonable amount of prisons, but in a global age of increasing incarceration, perhaps it’s not. A good comparison here is Italy, similar in population size, who have a total of 206 prisons with an estimated population in 2021 of 59,066,225. Italy actually have less prisoners to house than England and Wales, around 30,000 less, yet they have more prisons and still are operating above their official capacity. This can be a reflection of many things such as, Italy having an excessive number of prisons, the prisons not being designed efficiently, or England and Wales, also operating above official capacity, not having enough prisons. Of course, it’s not that simple and each country is unique in the way they approach incarceration and the way in which facilities are designed to detain individuals being sent to their significant number of prisons.


Texas, a State in the USA is 695,662 km2 and has close to 160,000 prisoners across their 61 state prisons. It is worth bearing in mind that Texas is almost as big as Afghanistan and the second largest state in the USA, yet only has a population of around 28.6 million people.

Sticking with the land mass comparison, Turkey covers an area of 783, 562 km2, and has around 3 times the general population of Texas, they also have significantly more prison facilities than Texas, with 383 prisons to accommodate their 314,502 prisoners. Both the state of Texas and the country of Turkey sound like they have an obscene number of prison facilities but in all honesty, most of the figures I find astounding. There are a staggering number of prisons located around the world, in individual states and countries alike. Making sense of the sheer number of prisons throughout the world is tricky and really raises more questions than answers. How many prisons is too many? In reality this is a rhetorical question.

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