Why do we need data? Testing Our Beliefs about Prison Overcrowding

27 March 2018 13:00 - 14:00
Why do we need data? Testing Our Beliefs about Prison Overcrowding

©ICRC/C. von Toggenburg

This public discussion seeks to examine some common beliefs surrounding prison overcrowding to encourage more and better action and collaboration in the field of data collection and analysis, at global, regional and national levels. The event is the public part of a full day of expert discussions between the ICRC and colleagues from inter-governmental, governmental and non-governmental organizations on the topic of data and prison overcrowding.

Key questions addressed during the event:

• Are high crime rates the cause of prison overcrowding?
• Are alternatives to detention always the solution to prison overcrowding?
• Is overcrowding just a matter of space?


For more information on the human cost of detention, see the latest edition of the International Review of the Red Cross.


The ICRC is active in detention in more than 90 countries. In many, prison overcrowding is chronic, creating huge challenges for prison administrations, detainees and their families. The ICRC finds that, while research and data analysis are acknowledged by most States to be essential in understanding the causes of other problems and designing appropriate solutions, when it comes to prisons and criminal justice too often data do not shape the discourse and/or are unreliable, inaccessible or simply not available. The ultimate aim of the ICRC is to contribute to creating conditions for detainees, and indeed staff, which are compatible with human dignity.


  • Marcelo Aebi, Professor of Criminology and Vice-director of the School of Criminal Sciences at the University of Lausanne, lead author of the Council of Europe Annual Penal Statistics (SPACE)
  • Vincent Ballon, Head of the Deprived of Liberty Unit, ICRC, has visited places of detention in Afghanistan, Liberia, Zimbabwe, Pakistan, Yemen, Burundi and the Philippines and is author of the recent International Red Cross Review article Overcrowding: Nobody's fault?