In 1993, the UK prison population was 44,000. Today it is over 83,000. This trend is set to continue: the government has recently announced an extra £3.8bn to create 20,000 more prison places.In the UK it is estimated that each new prison place costs £119,000 and that the annual average cost for each prisoner exceeds £40,000. (Guardian link)A key economic debate at the moment is the best way to reduce Britain's budget deficit in a way that:
- Helps improve maintain equality / fairness in society
- Doesn't negatively impact on economic growth
- Helps to improve economic incentives and economic welfare.
Anyway, I've always wondered why we have not made greater use of much greater financial penalties for crime, rather than relying on the expense of putting people in prison.
For crimes of theft / burglary e.t.c. there must be an economic incentive for people to resort to crime. The proceeds from crime being weighed up against the potential loss of liberty. At the moment, it seems that many feel that there is an economic incentive to steal. In the eye of the criminal the benefits outweigh the costs. - Society pays heavily for this.
However, suppose there were very stringent financial penalties for being involved in this kind of crime. Either one off lump sum penalties or the prospect of higher taxes for a certain number of years.
If the state had the power to confiscate property, money in bank, society could be financially compensated for the crime, rather than society having to pay even more to keep them in prison for a long time..
You could criticise higher financial penalties for crime on the grounds of.
- Impacts on individual liberty to confiscate property / bank accounts. But, what is prison if not a confiscation of individual liberty?
- The family of criminals may suffer if car and house repossessed.
- Prospect of higher taxes in future may dissuade criminals from returning to the legal economy. It may be an incentive to remain in the black market and report a low income.
- If the prospect of jail is insufficient to deter crime, maybe the prospect of a high % of your wealth / property being confiscated would be.
- Greater financial penalties wouldn't replace prison altogether. But, it may justify shorter sentences (for non-violent crimes), given the criminal is being hurt in different ways.
- The money raised from fining criminals could be used to pay for drug rehabilitations programmes e.t.c which help reduce crime in future.
Just my idea of the weak.