Why tackle the underlying causes of crime when you can just lock people up? Whilst it might seem obvious that the 37 grand a year currently spent on each individual residing under Her Majesty’s pleasure would be better spent reducing the poverty experienced by many of those who get banged up, UK plc begs to differ. Particularly when the prisons are privatised and there’s some easy cash to be made, especially those in the business of using cheap prison labour.

Last week Neo Labour announced that it would be building three new ‘super prisons’ (to be called ‘Titans’) each capable of housing 2,500 inmates. The plan is to lock away 100,000 people by 2010 – up 60% since 1996. And no wonder - 3,000 more criminal offences have hit the statute book in less than a decade, so there’s plenty more people breakin’the law! A million and a half people are found guilty of some offence or other each year and 130,000 enter the prison system. Even with plans to ‘moderate the demand for custody’, the government reckons another 20,000 places will be needed in the next three years. On average there are 125 prisoners per 100,000 people in the world, but the UK puts away 148 and our inmate population is rising faster than the US’s (although by locking up six times the world average, and even more than the Chinese, the US is still out there in a league of its own).

So who gets locked up? One quarter of the prison population are from minority ethnic communities, although they represent less than 9% of the general population. Half of inmates suffer mental ill health and one in five have been home-less at some time. Foreign nationals account for more than one in ten inmates – but most of them are not included in the 2010 target as the Home Office plans some mass deportations in the next few years. And, of course, there’s the political prisoners. People who face years in prison for breaking the law whilst fighting a system that creates poverty, division and destroys the planet in the process.

More than 90% of recorded crime is against property and a third of prisoners are inside for non-payment of fines. So naturally it’s the poor who inevitably get banged up, usually for hindering the rich in the quest to get just that bit richer. And just where do the rich end up when they’ve been caught in the boardroom, committing crimes on an much grander scale? - it’s a short stay at Ford Open prison and weekend golfing retreats for you! And why not keep up with your share portfolio too, while your fellow inmates in more austere prisons work for next to no money...

The Forced Labour Convention of 1930 describes forced labour as "all work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily," - yet that’s exactly what happens in the prison service (see SchNEWS 525). Through the Incentives and Earned Privileges Scheme, inmates get to wear their own clothes, receive more visits and can earn more cash if they embrace the regime. And when the wage is often less than £2.50 a day, there are plenty of companies out there which are only too willing to employ a captive worker. You can find out who they are by visiting Check out uk for ways you can support prisoners and info on latest campaigns. There are lists of Earth Liberation prisoners at www.spiritoffreedom. vegan prisoners at For more on alternatives to prison see

– from SchNEWS, 13th December 2007