Recently released from jail, the economist and author on why the current system costs too much and locks up too many peopleby Vicky Pryce / October 30, 2013 / Leave a comment
“I was sentenced to eight months in prison in March of this year for taking my ex-husband’s speeding points on to my licence 10 years previously. I served two months inside—four days in Holloway in central London and just less than two months in East Sutton Park, an open women’s prison in Kent near Maidstone. That was followed by two months on a “tag” at home on a nightly curfew. The time spent inside, and the Home Detention Curfew (HDC) thereafter, are standard practice for anyone receiving a similar sentence to mine as hardly anyone serves more than half the allotted time they are handed down.
Don’t moan, get on with life and what’s past is past are not bad mantras and so I went to prison mentally prepared to survive it and give something back. However, I wouldn’t recommend prison to anyone and in fact my new book Prisonomics argues strongly that alternatives should be pursued wherever possible. Most women in prison are vulnerable already before they commit their crimes and they are victims as well as offenders. Fifty-three per cent of them have been sexually, emotionally or physically abused as children. Very few of the women I met were a danger to society but many are a danger to themselves—although women make up under five per cent of the overall prison population they account for nearly a third of all the incidents of self-harm while in prison.
There is a disproportionate amount of mental health problems and drug and alcohol abuse among women entering prison. A very large number have no qualifications whatsoever and many are homeless before they are placed in custody. They often then lose control of their homes and in many cases their children go into care at huge short-term and long-term cost to society. One third of women in prison are single parents compared to only nine per cent of the population as a whole. Thanks to our obsession with locking people up, some 17,000 children were separated from their mother by a judge in 2010. In the last 20 years, while crime has fallen dramatically we have doubled the prison population in England and Wales to some 85,000—of whom just under 4,000 are female.
The average cost to the British taxpayer of keeping someone in prison for a year is estimated at around £40,000. For women,…