Cost of prison

Last Wednesday saw a dramatic change in the way we view prisons. The Scottish Parliament agreed to all but abolish short sentences of three months or under and UK Justice Secretary Ken Clarke reversed the old conservative mantra that "prison works".

It is clear that short sentences deliver little other than vastly expensive bed-and-board for convicted offenders. Prison should be reserved as a punishment for crimes that entail a serious sentence.

However, abolishing short sentences in itself does not make the problem of offending or re-offending go away.

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In Scotland and elsewhere in the UK, we have a prison pipeline that stretches from cradle to cell and back again. Many of the young people in our prison system have parents who are or were in the same system.

Prison is viewed as such an inevitable destination for some young people that it almost becomes a right of passage. In the absence of any positive roles models, stable family home life and decent education, prison becomes a cost of life that is simply factored in.

The less well we care for our children the more likely they are to end up in prison, a problem illustrated by the fact that a quarter of the prison population will have been in care as children.

Crudely speaking, the more we fail our children the higher the demand for prison cells. To truly change the prison population we need to change the status quo for these young people.

The ending of short-term sentences gives us a unique opportunity to talk about shutting off the prison pipeline and reducing the inter-generational cycle of offending and re-offending.

This debate should have added impetus as it is supported by economic logic; it is always cheaper to prevent than it is to imprison.


Barnardo's Scotland

Costorphine Road