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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Imprisonment Costs "£40,000" in the UK, £14,922 USA & £9,775 in Korea

  On Newsnight Scotland last night Kenny MacAskill, the Justice Minister, said that imprisoning people costs £40,000 a year. I thought I would check if this is the necessary cost by comparing with elsewhere. Not that easy because there seems to be far more material about the cost of imprisonment to those incarcerated than to society. However I found this.

expenditure on the prison system
Australia $124.8 per person/day in Aus dollars = £28,470
Denmark 1307 million crowns among 3597 prisoners= £135,584 = £89,000
Malta LM 590,000 among 200 = £7023
New Zealand NZ35,000 per person = £16,754
South Korea US$337 million among 55.159 =  £9775
England and Wales £1509 million among 37.900 = £39,815 in 1995

Scotland "£40,000"
USA $23,876 per person = £14,922

The figures given in the first link are around the mid 1990s so you could probably about double them, though the US ones are more current, which suggests MacAskill's figures only included running costs (the England and Wales ones were total budget which includes new building).

First lets acknowledge that these comparisons aren't very good. Nonetheless it is clear that the costs of imprisoning people in developed countries is extremely variable and that, with the predictable exception of Denmark, ours are very much at the high end - nearly 2.7 that in the US which is not the lowest.

It cannot be assumed that the cost variations are inherent in the general difficulty of imprisoning different nationalities ao it must be the political establishment. We could have far lower imprisonment costs if that were desired.

What doing this article has also shown is how very little transparency there is in such figures. Many of the countries on the first link simply did not give figures and there seems to be nobody currently collating them. I do. Lack of transparency normally goes with price padding. High imprisonment costs are then, with an appearance of reasonability, used to justify not imprisoning people or extremely short sentences. Limited though this comparison has proven to be it is clear that this is another area where British government costs could easily be halved, probably much more, if the will was there.

Perhaps that would mean fewer prisoners being rehabilitated. On the other hand perhaps it would mean more. The penal quangos and fakecharities do keep promising us that another programme will cut crime levels but their last promises don't seem to have worked and promises from people who don't favour transparency on the subject should not be taken seriously.

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