Economics and Incarceration

Harsh Criminal Justice Policies Hurt The Economy, White House Says

The economy is rarely something we associate with the criminal justice system due to the other persistent issues arising. However, this article presents a complex yet crucial argument to the broader picture of the department of corrective services. The article above outlines the issues the United States are facing in funding allocation with a very large portion going towards prison and custodial services and a bare minimum to other non-custodial pathways.

On the other hand, the Australian state of Victoria has only just announced new budget allocations for some key issues we are facing in the community relating to the criminal justice system. This includes a package of over $500 million towards family violence and over $200 million to Community Correctional Services to assist in supervising and monitoring offenders in the community. In addition, there is also funding towards post-sentence schemes for sex offenders, the Community Crime Prevention Program, emergency services and public safety packages for an increase in policing. One of the most significant changes in the state budget is the introduction of a new drug court in Melbourne to allow for more cases to be heard from a wider catchment area.

The proposal of a new drug court stems from the success of the existing drug court located in Dandenong where mainstream measures such as prison are less likely considered in contrast to alcohol and other drug rehabilitation facilities. There are also measures targeted to combat the ice epidemic which has had a substantial effect on the justice system with a fair portion of offenders being charged with methamphetamine related offences or crimes committed whilst under the influence of this drug. Attorney-General Martin Pakula has argued the proposal is crucial as the “status quo isn’t working”. Long prison sentences are not working. They are only increasing the imprisonment rates, leading criminals through the revolving door of offending and not adequately addressing the underlying issues of their substance dependency. They also cost a lot

The challenges the correctional systems of (most of) the world face is the balance between locking away criminals but also needing to rehabilitate them so they are prepared for their release and go on to lead a crime-free life. So the question is, if money is going to be spent on corrections, shouldn’t it be put to something that has a positive effect such as treatment and rehabilitation rather than prisons where 50% of offenders will return anyways?

Let’s do the maths.

According to the Victorian Department of Justice and Regulation, it cost $297 a day to hold each prisoner in 2015.
At the time, there were 6,219 prisoners in the system.
That is $1,850,000 a day spent by the government to house inmates.
That is close to $700 million a year, assuming the imprisonment rate stayed the same (which it didn’t because it is always increasing).

In addition to these statistics, consulting and advisory firm, Deloitte, has undertaken a report on the cost of keeping offenders in prison in comparison to residential treatment between 2012 and 2013. Despite having the Indigenous population as a focus, the research is easily applied to the entire population. The government would actually save money by placing those who are in need of substance intervention in residential rehabilitation rather than incarcerate them. The findings speak for themselves.

So why has this not been an option for those who need it until the last five years or so? The politicians and policy makers are too scared. It is incredibly easier to put someone in prison for non-violent offences than actually spending time with them to sort out what is going on in their life. Plus, ‘tough on crime’ law reforms and spending more and more money on harsh punishments win votes. The public would much rather vote for a politician who is going to lock up crooks rather than spend time and money on rehabilitating them to be better people. It is generally perceived that this money should go to ‘better things’ and to those who deserve it instead of criminals. Furthermore, the government is held accountable for any poor judgment. If an offender who is on a rehabilitative treatment plan does happen to violently re-offend, it is not a great look for policy makers, no matter how much money is saved for those ‘better things’.

That concludes my thoughts on the economics of incarceration for this weekend, let me know what you think!

Until next time.



Private Prisons For Profit

Incarceration-for-profit: when the commercial imperative clashes with proper justice

The ethical operation of private prisons is something I have personally doubted for a very long time. Initially I wasn’t sure if it was just me overreacting and over-analysing each flaw without thinking of the benefits, however this article has just confirmed everything I have questioned about privately run correction facilities.

In Victoria, 2 out of 15 operating prisons are privately owned, that is soon to be 3 out of 16 with the new Ravenhall facility being constructed and due to open late 2017.
The two companies running these facilities are G4S and GEO Group.
Not only do they operate in total contrast to each other, but they also operate completely different to government run prisons. This is something that concerns me.

In all my interactions with staff from these companies, past and present, it has alarmed me how the inconsistency in standards across the board is so abundant.

With funding already being sparse in correctional departments, these private prisons reduce the cost even more by cutting numerous corners and gaining profit the most absurd ways.

So what?
So what they make profit off prisoners? They’re criminals anyways.
So what if they prioritise spending? That’s what successful businesses do.

This is not a case of the above. We are talking about peoples lives, their futures and fair criminal justice.
The article outlines how private prisons reduce spending through low standards of sanitation, reduction in services, employing inexperienced officers and decreasing quality of food. All these factors are crucial to the successful operation of prisons.

Most importantly is community safety.
If shortcuts are being made, particularly with the standard of staffing, this could lead to the compromise in safe prison operations.
It is a well known fact amongst prisoners that there is much more freedom at the privately operated Fulham facility which raises concerns and not just because they are a medium security prison.

Coincidentally as I write this post, two escapees from a privately run prison in Victoria have been found and returned to custody.
You can find the story here.

Another issue surrounding private prisons is the need for money since they are not completely funded by the government, only partially.
Being a business that doesn’t necessarily offer any services in return for money like your local grocery store, how do they make enough money to pay their staff, provide services for prisoners, provide food and clothing?


Prison industries are the big “ca-ching” in privately operated prisons.

In Port Phillip Prison, another private prison, I believe one of the employment opportunities is the manufacturing of number plates which are then sold to Vic Roads for a certain price per unit and then a portion given to the prisoner as their pay. It is not known what percentage of this pay is given to the inmates however I can tell you from seeing a kitchen inmates pay, it would not be much at all, somewhere around $9.00 per day according to recent findings. The rest going directly to the correctional company.

They get paid, they get given something to do and work experience!

Yes, all correct, however the issue begins when we start thinking of what the general aim of prisons are…yes, to incapacitate prisoners, but also to deter offenders from committing further crimes when released. However, privately run prisons need inmates to keep their ‘business’ running, so where is the motive to reform and rehabilitate them whilst incarcerated? If the crime rate goes down, there are less prisoners and if there are less prisoners, there are less prisoners to work and less profit for the business.

That is all I have to voice this time however feel free contact me with any queries, comments and concerns in relation to the issue.
I would love to know if you think there is a place for privately operated prisons in the criminal justice system and what the benefits are of this.

Until next time!



Scandinavian Exceptionalism

The Netherlands keeps having to close its prisons due to a lack of prisoners.

At a time when punitive punishment is at an all time high, to hear of prisons closing (and staying closed!) sounds like a surreal concept. Not in the Netherlands.
The article recently written by Frida Garza and published on QUARTZ begins by outlining the reasoning behind the decision to close five of its prisons, it is simply too costly to maintain, particularly with their declining crime rate. An interesting statement seeing as though many western nations (i.e. the United States, Australia and New Zealand) are experiencing exponential growth in crime rates.
Dutch News reports that crime rates in the Netherlands have dropped by 0.9% and at the same time, judges have been sentencing offenders to shorter incarceration terms.

Everything I learned from my studies about crime and prisons revolved around longer and harsher prison sentences aimed at deterring criminals from committing crimes, particularly in the United States. Meanwhile, the Netherlands is experiencing a decreasing rate in crime whilst judges are handing out shortened sentences.
This tells me that what is generally thought about prison sentences being a considerate deterring factor is not all it is made out to be.

The Netherlands is not the only country experiencing this ‘good-to-have problem’. Sweden is also having to close down prisons due to a gradual decrease in crime rates and prison populations.

Whilst these northwestern European nations are indefinitely shutting it’s prisons down, others are building more and more to accommodate the ever-increasing number of offenders sentenced to prison.
How and why is this issue so contrasting to what other countries are experiencing?

Scandinavian Exceptionalism

One of the most intriguing areas of Criminology.
How is one concept, crime, carried out consistently across different nations, cultures and languages yet treated so inconsistently?

Here, I have taken the words describing Scandinavian Exceptionalism directly from Prof. John Pratt* in his journal article titled Scandinavian Exceptionalism in an Era of Penal Excess

low rates of imprisonment and humane prison conditions…the roots of this exceptionalism in Finland, Norway and Sweden, arguing that it emerges from the cultures of equality that existed in these countries which were then embedded in their social fabrics through the universalism of the Scandinavian welfare state.
…I could not have put it any better myself.
My fascination in this area grew rapidly after attending a lecture given by Dr. Anna Eriksson on SE in my third year of Criminology where I learned how instead of treating crime as a deviancy, it is perceived as a mental illness and ‘treated’ accordingly. Furthermore, there is no power hierarchy that is apparent in nations with rising prison populations. Prison Officers are willing to do their job because they like to work with people rather than wanting to have power over people or minimal job prospects with no other option.
I will be leaving at that for now as my first real blog post however expect more to come surrounding this topic as it is one that I am very interested in.
I would love to hear any comments, queries and/or concerns surrounding SE and whether it would (ever) be possible to implement in justice systems facing an inundation with crime rates and prisoners.
*Professor John Pratt is the Director of the Institute of Criminology in New Zealand
Featured image found here