Male vs Female Incarceration Rates

Last Updated on May 11, 2022 by Fair Punishment Team

It is a well known fact that a much larger number of men are being incarcerated every year than women. However, this does not mean that there are no women being incarcerated. In fact, the number has risen significantly over the past few decades. 

Today we are going to be comparing the male and female incarceration rates in the United States. We’ll be looking at the numbers incarcerated, if this is an increase from previous years, and more. 

Male vs Female Convicted Offenders

The number of prisoners under jurisdiction of federal or state correctional facilities has always had a disproportionate male to female ratio. Here are the numbers from 2005 to 2020. 

This data is laid out in the following format: Year, Male Prisoners, Female Prisoners

  • 2005 1,418,392 107,518
  • 2006 1,456,366 112,308
  • 2007 1,482,524 114,311
  • 2008 1,493,670 114,612
  • 2009 1,502,002 113,485
  • 2010 1,500,936 112,867
  • 2011 1,487,561 111,407
  • 2012 1,461,625 108,772
  • 2013 1,465,592 111,358
  • 2014 1,449,291 113,028
  • 2015 1,415,112 111,491
  • 2016 1,396,296 111,833
  • 2017 1,377,815 111,374
  • 2018 1,353,595 110,790
  • 2019 1,322,256 107,909
  • 2020 1,132,767 83,054

As you can see, the number of male inmates is staggeringly high compared to the number of females incarcerated. In some years, the ratio of men to women is over 10:1! 

However, you can see a trend of steady incline with both the number of male and female prisoners through the years. There are a few exceptions, with a decline in male incarcerations every year from 2009, and there was a drop in the number of women prisoners in 2012. 

Both male and female inmate numbers dropped in 2020, but this can be put down to Covid-19 with less crime being committed as a whole. 

Incarceration Rates in Prisons

Published research from the Federal Bureau of Prisons has recently shown that there is an amazing gender gap in federal prisons over the US. Out of 185,000 federal inmates, 93.2% were made up of men, and only 6.8% were females. 

It’s worth noting that federal prisons only hold around 9% of the overall number of people incarcerated. However, older figures from the Bureau of Justice Statistics showed that state and local prisons feature a similar ratio of 90.6% men and 9.4% women. 

Why is there such a difference between the incarceration rates? 

There are a number of reasons why the incarceration rates for men are higher for women. For starters, men are more likely to commit violent crimes including murder, rape, and assult. Women, on the other hand, are more commonly incarcerated for drug related crimes. 

This means that men tend to get harsher sentences than women. Women are also more likely to avoid charges and convictions altogether. Studies have shown this, as well as the fact that women are twice as likely to avoid incarceration altogether. 

Due to these facts, more research is coming out suggesting that there is an institutional bias against men. Studies are trying to show that men are not necessarily more criminal by nature, but that the numbers are inaccurate due to more women avoiding incarceration.

The ratios that we talked about above are interesting as federal prisons tend to hold offenders of white collar crime, such as corporate fraud, embezzlement, and extortion, as well as some drug related crimes. 

Most convicts in state prisons, however, are more likely to have committed violent crimes such as murder, manslaugher, and robbery. 

It stands to reason that the federal prison ratio is lower, but still present, for women as they hold people convicted of drug related crimes. State prisons hold more offenders of violent crimes, which is why the ratio of incarcerated men is so staggeringly high. 

The Prison Gender Gap

While the ratio of male to female incarcerations is absurd enough, comparing this to the overall population can make it even more impressive. 

To recap, the gender of federal inmates is 93.2% male and 6.8% female. Out of a total of 185,500 federal inmates, this makes 172,800 male inmates and 12,700 female inmates. 

Now compare this to the overall population of the United States. Out of all of the US citizens, 49.2% are male and 50.8% are female. This makes, out of 308.7 million citizens, 151.8 million male citizens and 156.9 million females. 

As you can see, there is a large disproportion between male inmates and the overall male population in the US, as well as female inmates to female citizens. 

Should you compare male and female incarceration rates? 

It is commonly reported that women are incarcerated much less than men, but some believe that comparing the two could be dangerous and depict a false narrative. For example, comparing women’s incarceration rates to men’s can create an optimistic picture for women, one of which is false. 

Although there are studies out there that are trying to show the inequality between the harsh sentencing of men and women, the justice system is fair to both genders. Comparing male and women’s rates might indicate that women can get away with more severe crimes, which is incorrect. 


Overall, there is a staggering difference between male and female incarceration rates. In both federal and state prisons, over 90% of the inmates are male and the rest are female. 

This ratio is further exaggerated when you compare it to the fact that there are more female citizens in the US than male. 

Some research is trying to prove that men are treated more harshly by the justice system than women, so comparing this ratio can come with harmful consequences. 

The rate of female incarcerations is quickly rising, which might indicate that women are seeing this data and assuming that they can get away with severe crimes without suffering the consequences.