Prison costs £30,000 a year per criminal in this country. That is nearly ten times more than we spend on each child's education. We want to punish these people so much that we are willing to spend a small fortune to do so. £30,000 a year, think of all the good that could do; it could employ 1.5 nurses, 1.5 social workers or could cover an MP's entire annual wage increase. Now, I understand that breaking the law needs to have consequences, but do they really need to cost as much as a brand new Jeep Cherokee?
Of course, we could make prisons more basic, less staffed and generally more dangerous to use - following in the footsteps of the Tories' NHS policy. Perhaps we just scrap prison all together and kill anyone who breaks the law, saving on expensive admin.
Here are some more innovative (ill thought out) ideas I've come up with to make prisons more effective and cheaper:
Just scrap prisons altogether.
When someone breaks the law, you tell them off (strongly if needed), then you let them go free. But have them escorted at ALL times by a huge Judo champion. The Judo champion follows them around, lives in their house and watches them sleep. Whenever the criminal is about to break the law again the judo champion steps in and snaps them to the floor. This innovative idea would remove the need for costly prisons and might allow our criminals a better shot at turning around their lives. You could pay that Judo champion roughly £25,000 a year. I've just knocked a 1/6 off the prison budget, increased Judo based employment and cut re-offending rates by 100%.
Out of work actors.
One of the problems with prison is that it is basically a 'University of Crime'. Soft criminals go in, mix with more serious ones, and they come out more dangerous to society. This makes no sense. When kids are naughty at school, teachers separate them, put them outside and make them face the wall. They don't put all the bad kids together in one building with body building equipment. What we need to do is put some good influences in prisons to break up the bad influences. So we should get some out of work actors (there are loads of them) and put them inside - they can be nice and friendly to the bad ones, maybe inspire them to turn their backs on crime, then the bad ones will come out as more reformed individuals. This is an actual science; loads of countries follow this method. Loads of countries put good righteous people in prison, North Korea have been doing it for years. Their prisons are full of innocent people, they're in there to help the bad ones I think.
Disclaimer: I haven't given this one much thought. There is a danger that having loads of actors mixing with the prisoners might just end up producing more actors. This would be completely counter productive and arguably worse than having more hardened criminals.
University of Crime
Perhaps we could embrace the 'University of Crime' label and treat prisoners like students. The prisoners themselves will have to pay for the privilege to go to prison, because obviously in the end they are the ones who will benefit most from their sentence (the networking opportunities are immense). The "Prisoners Loan Company" will provide them with loans to cover the cost, with grants for particularly gifted criminals. Then they pay it back when they're making enough money from crime. Simple.
Now this idea is a bit mad. We could step back and have a real think about what prison is for. Is it a place where we send the most vulnerable in society, lock them up and try to forget they exist? Is it a place where we stick hundreds of law-breaking people together for months on end and just hope they learn a trade? Or is it a place where we house people from our society, who for whatever reason have ended up falling foul of the law, and help them set up a new life where perhaps their best option to survive isn't crime? The cost isn't the issue. How about we just make prisons work? We could afford to spend £60,000 per criminal if it meant that they definitely weren't going to boomerang back inside within a few months of being released. As I say, a bit mad that one.
Feel free to call me Mr Gove for a chat, I've got loads of ideas - but if you use my actor idea I will not be held responsible for the dangerous rise in amateur stage productions of The Shawshank Redemption.
Steve Bugeja is taking his debut solo stand-up show to the Edinburgh Festival. His show Day Release is the true story of how he had to pick up a convicted criminal, who was leaving prison for the first time in 18 years, and transport him across the country. You can see it every night from 6-30th August (not 18th). It's £5 to guarantee a seat or free entry if there's room.