The Economic Case For and Against Prison

Back in the mists of time – June last year – I wrote a post about the cost of prison. Now I see there’s been some proper analysis of the issues in this paper by the Matrix Knowledge Group.

My interest was peaked by reading about the different approach that Finland takes to youth justice issues to us. According to Prospect:

There are five people under 18 in custody in Finland. In Britain there are roughly 3,000. If the populations of the two countries were equal, Britain would have 60 in custody at Finnish levels.

The Matrix study starts with a few bald facts:

  • the prison population consisted of 81,533 inmates
  • the annual running costs of prisons stood at £1,936 million
  • a capacity-development programme was in place to allow for a further 10,000 inmates by 2012.

You’ll remember that when I looked at this before I’d found a Home Office paper which said:

When overall reconviction rates for custody are compared with those for community penalties, there is no significant difference in the effects of the disposals on reconviction rates.

This report from Matrix goes further looking at a number of evaluated interventions trying to find out if they lead to fewer people being re-convicted and are better value for money.

They conclude that there are a number of interventions (a number of which include prison as the setting) which have better outcomes in terms of re-conviction rates and are lighter on the public purse.

So for juveniles they say:

The interventions examined in this report predict that the cost savings per adult or juvenile offender receiving a community intervention rather than prison range from:

  • £3,437 to £88,469 for savings to the taxpayer only
  • £16,260 to £202,775 for savings to the taxpayer and the savings from fewer victim costs.

I know from experience that changing policy is never easy, particularly when the evidence isn’t politically convenient, but given the amounts of money involved I can’t see how we can ignore the benefits posited in this paper.

About Andrew Brown

I live in Lewisham, South East London, and spent 9 years as a Labour councillor in the borough between 1997 and 2006.
This entry was posted in Civic Society and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Economic Case For and Against Prison

  1. johnathva says:

    Agreed Andrew,
    Sadly, I can remember working on a project a bit like that nearly 30 years ago – I don’ think ‘the lady was for turning’ in those days, but it would be nice if someone heard the arguments now.

  2. andrewkbrown says:

    Hello John, nice to hear from you. We can but hope.

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