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Upon hearing that it costs £38,000 per year to keep a single prisoner incarcerated, what is the typical first reaction? A sample of possibilities:

  1. What?! I don’t even earn that much in a year!
  2. Yeah and I bet it all goes on x-Boxes.
  3. It’s wasted on them.

Assuming you don’t read the daily fail, let’s have a wee think about this.

  1. I don’t earn that much in a year. But nor do the prisoners. No one would seriously suggest any of it is ending up in their pockets.
  2. If any of it goes on x-Boxes I would imagine it is only a small fraction. The remainder would be spent on food, gas, electricity and water, building maintenance, healthcare, rehab programmes, education and trying to keep caged people sane. Let’s not forget the staff payroll. Would you do that job? You’d have to pay me a lot more than £38k to work inside a prison. There are probably many other costs on top of that which I’m not even aware of.
  3. It’s wasted on them. The notion of judging a society on its treatment of prisoners is well known and attributed to all sorts of great minds. It doesn’t matter who said it first. The point is, a firm grasp of your own humanity is only sustainable if you treat everyone else like humans. “Prisoners” as a population are depersonalised in the extreme and thereby vulnerable to the abuses that flow all too naturally from anonymity – of the abuser and the abused.

I’m not saying I feel any particular sympathy with people who choose to break the law. They make their choices. However, the evidence suggests crime is lowest in equitable societies. So we’ve already let them down by endorsing an individualistic “for gain” attitude and now they are the ones paying the price. But it’s ok, we tell ourselves, because it’s our taxes, our resources they’re draining. £38,000 a year, tuh.

But do we ever think to ask how much each and every one of us costs the taxpayer? Does it cost more to subsidise the life of a law abiding citizen? I’m sure the data is out there, we could work it out if we wanted.

Personally, I currently use or benefit from healthcare, public transport, municiple waste collection facilities, roads, libraries, the products of subsidised agriculture, pension contributions and funding for my training. As a child, I had at my regular disposal education and council housing, parks, playgrounds and beaches. When I’m an older person, I may use social care services. Maybe my safety and security is bought with the police and military.

Of course, I pay my taxes. But I doubt very much that my contribution entirely covers my consumption. Some pay more and use less, or use more and pay less. But it all works out in the end (not counting the budget deficit of course).

The point of contention is obviously morality. Who deserves what? Are you an intrinsically better person if you work 60 hours a week rather than do over the offie to fund your addiction? Is your life of more worth because your net financial contribution is positive rather than negative? Are you more deserving of x-Boxes because you have turned opportunity to a socially acceptable rather than unacceptable advantage?

Food for thought.

Gordon Behind Bars