The Conservatives’ plans to lock up young knife carriers would put a penny on the basic rate of income tax, according to Liberal Democrat research.
The Tories would have to lock up over 330,000 young people at a cost of £4.9 billion a year - a penny on the basic rate of income tax- if they want to follow through their pledge to imprison all young people carrying knives.
Tory leader David Cameron recently said: "If you are carrying a knife and you are caught, you should expect to go to prison. Plain, simple, clear."
The huge cost of the pledge is based on the £40,992 annual price of keeping a prisoner behind bars, on top of the cost of building the 100,000 thousand additional prison places that would be needed to house them all.
The Home Office’s 2006 Offending, Crime and Justice Survey reveal that 3% of 10 to 25 year olds admitted to carrying a knife in the past year, equivalent to 334,167 people.
The average sentence currently given to under 18s caught carrying a knife is 3.4 months. Based on this sentence, nearly 100,000 10 to 25 year olds would be behind bars at any one time. Housing these people alone would cost £3.8 billion.
The capital cost of building the 100,000 additional prison places (equivalent to 40 titan prisons) would mean an annual cost of £1.1 billion paying interest on the debt.
Commenting, Liberal Democrat Shadow Home Secretary, Chris Huhne said:
"These figures demonstrate just how little grip on reality David Cameron has. The Tories have been just as irresponsible in threatening prison as Labour has been in pledging hospital visits for offenders.
"By promising to imprison everyone who carries a knife, David Cameron appears to want to double the prison population which is already at record levels and the highest in Europe.
"These figures for knife-carrying also demonstrate the total failure of the Government to get a grip on the knife culture that exists in parts of this country.
"Instead of chasing headlines, Labour and the Tories need to come down to earth and forge a consensus on what works, such as hot-spot policing, intelligence-led stop and search, and restorative justice that brings offenders face to face with their own victims.
"The evidence shows the best way to cut crime is not by posturing on penalties but by increasing detection."
While knife crime is not as significant in South Wales as in English cities, the Cameron policy has implications for us. Over-filling English prisons would put pressure on Welsh gaols, leading to unchecked early releases and use of open prisons for inappropriate convicts.
1. Using the survey figures given by the Home Office and the Government’s own population figures, it was estimated that 334,167 young people (10 to 25 year olds) carried a knife in the last year;
2. Young people and crime: findings from the 2006 Offending, Crime and Justice Survey;
3. Population figures taken from the Office for National Statistics;
4. Prison costs based on Howard League for Penal Reform estimate, based on a parliamentary answer;
5. If everyone who was caught carrying a knife was sentenced to prison for a year, then the cost to the public purse would be £13.6 billion. This figure comes from multiplying the total number (334,167) by the average cost of a prison place (£40,992). This is £13,698,173,664. This, however, assumes they are sentenced to an average of one year and does not take into account the cost of building extra prison places. The average sentence for possession of a knife or sharp instrument in a public place was 3.4 months for under-18s in 2006. 3.4 months is 28.33% of a year. On average, 28.33% of all 334,167 people would be in prison at any one time. That is 94,670 people. To house them would cost 94,670 x 40,992 = 3,880,712,640 (£3.9 billion).
6. The prison population is already at breaking point. There are not enough spaces available. The Government is already embarking on a huge building project. To house all the knife carriers the Tories want to, extra places would have to be built for them all. This would cost: a) 10,500 new places are going to cost £2.3 billion, Straw admitted to the Justice Select Committee. At that rate, 100,000 would cost 9.5238 times more. This is a total building cost: £21,904,761,904.76 (£22 billion);
7. The cost to the Government of borrowing the £22 billion required at the standard ten year bond rate of 4.9% would be £1.1 billion per annum.
8. As outlined above, the annual cost of keeping these people in prison would be £3.8 billion plus £1.1billion annual cost of the capital programme, totalling £4.9 billion.