Prisons are a waste of money?

Topics: Prison, Recidivism, Crime Pages: 9 (2858 words) Published: November 18, 2013

10) Prisons are a waste of money. With reference to relevant literature / reports discuss why this might be so and give examples of alternatives that might be used more effectively.


Prisons are home to the individuals who have committed a crime, and been convicted of their crime. These correctional facilities are used as a form of punishment by the courts for these felons. ( Free Legal Dictionary, 2013). "There are 14 institutions in the Irish Prison System consisting of 11 traditional "closed" institutions, two open centres, which operate with minimal internal and perimeter security, and one “semi-open" facility with traditional perimeter security but minimal internal security". (Irish Prison System, 2013). The Mission of the Irish Prison System, is "providing safe and secure custody, dignity of care and rehabilitation to prisoners for safer communities", all the while ensuring public safety. (Irish Prison Service, 2013) According to the Irish Prison Service, the core aim is "prisoner care and rehabilitation. The Service tries to achieve a balanced approach in the effective performance of its care and custody functions. It seeks to manage sentences in a way which encourages and supports prisoners in their efforts to live law abiding and purposeful lives on release." (2013). Each of these programmes offered to convicted prisoners are what leads to the accusation that prisons are a waste of money.

The reality that money is wasted in the prison system is generally agreed, but that is different from common media reporting that prisons are a waste of money. The aim of this paper is to discuss whether or not prisons are a waste of money, by referencing relevant literature. However, the facts supporting this media impression justify setting out why this might be so. It is true to say that prisons worldwide are a very costly way of securing those who have been convicted for criminal activity, this high cost of detaining prisoners and suggested alternatives to the prison system currently in place will be addressed in this study.


What is apparent is that the ever increasing prison population generally consists of young, poor, uneducated and unemployed people from deprived parts of the country and many who are jailed for non violent crimes or non payment of civil fines. It is clear that those in power or those of a higher social status view prison as a fitting punishment for criminals, in todays society this is not in fact an action of last resort, but the first choice is to lock these individuals up. Understandably these criminals need to pay for what they have done but such a strategy ensures that prisons can justifiably be described as a waste of money. According to a study by Chazelle in 2011, "In 1970, fewer than 200,000 Americans were incarcerated. Today, with some 2.3 million in prison or jail, the US has more people and a higher percentage of its population locked up than any other country."(2011) Thus proving that there are drastic increases in prisoners world-wide and with this there is an inevitable lead to a huge increase in costs.

The Irish Penal Reform Trust [IPRT], established in 1994 is a non government organisation campaigning for progressive reform of Irish Penal Society. They publish a wide range of research documents but seldom get a lot of media attention. They promote many alternatives to the existing prison system. Some facts and figures provided by the IPRT strongly indicate that prisons are a "waste" of money :

"1. The current prison population is 4,306 (7th March 2013)

2. The rate of imprisonment in Ireland is 96 per 100,000 of population (May 2012)

3. The prison population has increased by 400% since 1970.

4. The average cost of imprisonment per prisoner was €65,404 in 2012, not including education spend; it was €65,359in 2011; €70,513 in 2010; €77,222 in 2009.

5. 60% of people serving sentences for 6 months or...

References: 3. Irish Prison Service. 2013. Irish Prison Service - Home. [Online] Available from: [Accessed 3rd May 2013]
5. Henrichson, C. Delaney, R. 2012. The Price of Prisons - What Incarceration Costs Taxpayers [Online] Available from: [Accessed 4th May 2013]
7. Lonergan, J. 2011. The Governor. United Kingdom: Johnston Publishing Ltd.
10. O’Mahony, P. 2000. Prison Policy in Ireland: Criminal Justice vs. Social Justice. 
12. McCullagh, C. 2002. ‘The Social Analysis of the Irish Prison System’ IN: O’Mahony, P. (ed.) Criminal Justice in Ireland. 
14. Chazelle, C. 2011. How to waste money and lives: the American prison system [Online] Available from: [Accessed May 3rd 2013]
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