Hong Kong’s prison system has the highest proportion of female inmates in the world – but local experts say the figure is skewed by the proliferation of foreign sex workers and that the female prison admission rate is actually falling.
Females account for about 19.4 per cent of the city’s prison population, the highest proportion out of 219 prison systems worldwide discounting three countries with national populations under 60,000, said a report from the London-based Institute for Criminal Policy Research.
“The figure is being driven by women coming from abroad and engaging in work where they are basically in breach of immigration ordinances,” said Karen Joe Laidler, a sociology professor at the University of Hong Kong who studies criminal justice and gender issues. “It is highly unusual, the fact that the proportion is higher than in any other country. [But] the number of women being admitted to prison in Hong Kong is in decline.”
In Hong Kong, the number of women in custody dropped by about 9.5 per cent from 1,776 to 1,607 from 2012 to 2014, according to the Correctional Services Department. The female prisoner admission rate fell by about 68 per cent from 2005 to last year.
The women’s prison population worldwide has outpaced men, growing to over 700,000 – doubling since 2000 – with those in the United States, China and the Russia representing about half the total population, the London think tank report said.
Females account for 2 to 9 per cent of the population in about 80 per cent of prison systems worldwide. Systems in Asia have the highest proportion, while African systems have the lowest.