Charity Begins At, and Only At, Home: Libertarian Party Home Affairs Policies Pt. 1
The tagline is: Freedom and Responsibility. In this article, we shall be covering the Home Affairs policies of the UK Libertarian Party. In this part, we discuss prison and sentencing policies, and issues with reducing the prison population.
We have already covered the monetary (and fiscal) policies of the UK Libertarian Party in their 2019 Manifesto. I did reach out through a Libertarian Party member for an interview, but nothing came of it. We shall now cover the Home Affairs policies (Libertarian Party, 2019). At least they have a Shadow Home Affairs officer for this section.
The first two pages are the same first two pages of their previous manifesto. But afterwards, I’ll say this; their policies this time are far expanded upon and laid out. However, as usual, no details, and no explanation of how they plan to achieve them. Not only that, but my analysis thus far would further expand the rise of populist/nationalist parties; poorer poor people and higher GDP growth being major factors in nationalism and populism. Libertarian polices may end up creating, as a reaction, an even larger state presence.
I was recently accused by a Libertarian party member of using ‘appeal to authority’ in my discussion with him, proving that I had no credibility what-so-ever. The first line of this manifesto is, in turn, a quote from Ayn Rand. Moving on, they have identified five areas in their manifesto (as articles are written, you can click the section to go straight there):
1. Punishment, Prisons, and Community Sentences
Due to the denseness of this manifesto, I shall be dividing it into five parts, and releasing them over the month (as people don’t read long articles, as I have found).. This article shall naturally be on the first part.
Part One: Punishment, Prisons, and Community Sentences
Policy 1: We will ensure sufficient prison places to make capacity no longer a factor in decisions
I actually agree with this, Justice should not be meted out based on whether we have a place to stick you (in the old days, we’d just send you off to Australia, but I imagine people would frown on that). However, we do need to be practical in how many people we send to jail, or to build more jails. The problem with building more jails is that you need to spend money to build and maintain them (more on that later), and that other countries will dismiss you for having so many people in jail (see how the international community regards America).
More seriously, there are one of three ways to deal with this: Release more people from jail, build more jails, or reduce sentence times. The Libertarians do not explain which one they would pursue; they vaguely wave towards releasing more people and reducing sentencing, but (as you’ll see later) also want to put more people in jail and be harsher in sentencing.
So let’s look at the information. 58% of prisons in England and Wales are overcrowded (House of Commons, 2018a). These jails hold a total of 8,600 people too many. 46% of prisoners were serving sentences above 4 years, around 10% are serving less than a year, about quarter were serving between 1-4 years, and 14% have indeterminate sentences (meaning there is no set time) (House of Commons, 2018a). Most interesting is displayed in this graph:
Let’s divide this into two groups. The “definitely should be in jail” group and the “maybe not group”.
Definitely Should Be in Jail
As we can see, Violence Against the Person and Sexual Offences are about 25% and 17.5% respectively. Criminal damage and arson make up less than 2%, but setting fire to houses is bad, let’s stick them in jail. Robbery means the person used force, making them violent; they go in this group with 10%-ish. Owning a weapon is currently illegal (4%), and probably means you’re going to be violent, so we can put them in as well.
In regards to theft, it could mean just picking up a Mars bar, but according to the Code for Crown Prosecutors (2019), theft that leads to jail is for burglary, robbery, and in the case of harm to an individual and community. We can say then, they are more likely than not to be in jail for a serious case, and should stay there. So we’ll put theft here for 15%.
Let’s say that drug offences are innocent (no trafficking, no dealing); that puts 15% of the prison population able to be released. Let’s say all miscellaneous are also fine to release (4.5%). Summary non-motoring are usually fine; it’s people who don’t pay parking tickets, TV licenses or child support; safe to release (4%). We shall also put public order offences (1.5%) and fraud offences (1.5%) in this category.
Why do this little exercise? So we can examine how many people are in jail for legitimate, ‘dangerous for society’ crimes, and because of the next policy of the Libertarians:
Policy 2: We will bring an end to the early release of the violent or abusive
Because the most the Libertarians can release from jail is around 26.5% (above estimate) of the population (of which, we must assume the most generous degree of innocence of these men), whereas the remaining 73.5% (estimate) are, we can safely assume, are unsafe to be released.
As such, the only way to reduce the population immediately is to assume the best from the “Maybe not” group, and then begin to release people who are dangerous to society. The numbers simply don’t back the Libertarians ideas up. Here are the estimates put together from government resources:
They will need to release 8,600 people just to reach capacity (or 76,400 possible rooms)! Currently, the prison holds 85,000 prisoners. That means that 10%, over 30% of the ‘safe’ prisoners (and remember, it’s probably less safe than that) would have to be released for Britain to have NO spare rooms. If all the safe prisoners are released, we could release up to 22525; which would leave us with only around 14,000 spare prison cells available for all of the United Kingdom.
The reason we have a lot of people in jail is that a lot of people are dangerous, and need to be in jail.
We know the Libertarians don’t want to build more prisons; that’s government spending, and we’re already at a deficit (which they want to remove). But let’s say they did; we know that 67/68 (depending on source) prisons hold all 76,000 prison cells. So let’s assume the average prison holds 1,100 prisoners. The government currently estimates building 10,000 new prison places to cost around £1.3 billion (House of Commons, 2018b). So each prison will cost around £144 million, for 1,100 places, or £131,000 per prison place (to be built, not held).
Policy 3: We reserve prison sentences for the violent and repeat offenders, and first-time offenders shall have community sentences, education, and curfew measures
Policy 4: Improve education and training within prison
The violent make up (in the most generous view of things) nearly three-quarters of prisoners; they make up 62,000 out of 76,000 possible prisoners (if we don’t overcrowd).
According to the Guide on Proven Reoffending Statistics, 30,000 people would fit the multiple offender definition (as in, two crimes proven in one year) in 2016, and this is the lowest year on record. It seems to normally hover around 45,000 people, which is over half of our capacity (Ministry of Justice, 2019).
This policy would load the prison system immediately in less than 2 years. We discussed above that creating new prison places would cost £131,000 per prisoner initially, and then between £23,000 (England and Wales) to £35,000 (Scotland) to Northern Ireland’s £53,408 per year (House of Commons, 2018a).
What does this mean? We can guess that 35% of the prison population leaves every year (that’s 10% for less than a year sentence, and that a half of the 1-4 year sentences leave, adding 23% more, and some of the longer sentences as well; we’ll provide the Libertarians a positive example). That’s around 30,000 leaving each year. If crimes remain at current levels, then this policy could be maintained. If they climb back to 45,000 per year (as they normally are), then the government would be forced to either reduce sentences (against party policy) or build 15,000 places each year with will cost nearly £2 billion per year (which is against party policy). This policy is only possible in the most optimistic circumstances.
In regards to policy 4, does education work? Perhaps, but it’s not the most important factor. A study in Norway by Skardhamar (2012) found that getting a job was one of the most important factors; those who found work before re-offending would reoffend 33% of the time, whereas without work, it was 71%. Those who went onto education, however, would reoffend at 41%. Going onto welfare doesn’t work, by the way; they reoffend 68% of the time.
What does all this mean? Education doesn’t work in of itself, reoffending would continue 41% of the time. Work, however, is far more important, reducing re-offence to 33%. If the Libertarian Party want to make this policy work, they must focus on education leading to employment.
It’s expensive to educate prisoners though; three times as expensive as England currently spends. It is difficult to find an English language source on the expenditure of this program, but Norway spends £74,000 per inmate per year (Benko, 2015). It may be a Libertarian policy, but they’ll have to spend money to do so; money they do not have under their own manifesto.
To non-prisoners, if we compare it to is vocational education; it’s hard to find this number either, but the University of York puts the number at £7,500 per person per year, and Germany pays around £10,000 per person per year (OECD, 2008). This does not include living costs.
As we have around 400,000 committing their first crime each year, and we educated 25% of those, that puts the year cost between £750 million to £1 billion. If the rate is higher, the cost rises. There is also the problem that recently built free schools are closing; even free education is not appealing enough (Adams, 2019).
The cheapest is community service which costs about £2,800 per person (McFarlane, 2010). If this covered the remaining first-timers, it would cost £840 million.
This assumes all first-timers are committing petty crimes, and not something violent, sexual, or extremely damaging and would require jail.
In the end, we find this policy very expensive, would require either massive government spending or heavily reducing sentences, and would lean to cheaper alternatives such as providing free education or community service (but that would undermine policy one above). There is also the usual critique of Libertarian ideas; they will not help the citizen get education, but will help criminals? For a party that loves to cite economic ‘incentives’, they’re providing the incentive to simply commit a crime to get education; they’re also taxing the population (which they call theft) to pay for this education. The policy is unfocused, going against many of their principles.
Policy 5: End the practise of using prisons for the incarceration of the mentally ill
This is a noble goal; the mentally ill need help, of course. But how would it work in practise? The Committee of Public Accounts found that between 10% to 90% of prisoners have mental health issues (unsurprising; . The government spends £400 million on healthcare in prisons, of which 37% is spent on mental health (around £150 million) (House of Commons, 2017).
It’s difficult to figure out precisely how many people need help; 10% of prison inmates are currently in treatment, and a further 15% want treatment but cannot get to their appointments. If £150 million is spent on 10%, then we can expect the total cost for that 25% to be around £375 million. This would be fine, but the Libertarians do not want to increase taxes or print money, so I don’t know where they’d get the money.
Policy 6: Gender is not a consideration for sentencing.
Again, I’m personally supportive of this policy. Look at the information below (Ministry of Justice, 2018):
Currently, the prison population is overwhelmingly men (348 men in 100,000 people to an equivalent rate of 16 women (House of Commons, 2018a). In terms of arrests, women are arrested 4 in 1,000 when compared to 22 arrests per 1,000 (gov.uk, 2019a). Women are 43% less likely to be incarcerated, and serve shorter sentences. (Ministry of Justice, 2018).
So, assuming women and men are arrested at fair rates (rather than men being more likely to be assumed to be guilty and arrested), and that the crimes are similar, we should see similar rates of incarceration?
We’d expect that as women are arrested at a rate of 18.1 when compared to the male 100, we would expect that they would be incarcerated 62 women per 100,000. That’s an increase of nearly four times. We’d also want to see longer sentences, but that leads to the same problem:
1) Where to put these people? Women make up 5% of the prison population (Ministry of Justice, 2018). Increase that by nearly 400%, and total prison population increases to 115% of the current level (which is already about 105% of capacity).
2) Are we going to give men lighter sentences? This goes against previous Libertarian policies in this part of the Manifesto.
It’s an interesting idea, but how are they going to do it? Either spend money, or let more men go? Also, I am confused on how they intend to sell this to the electorate; it’s easy to spin it as ‘women-hating’, and I’m sure many groups would be happy to call it such.
Policy 7: Using financial restitution rather than prison for non-violent crimes
Interesting, but a misunderstanding of the legal system. We already have an existing civil legal system where the individual can claim personal harm and seek redress of their hurt. The criminal system is the society against the defendant; not the individual. It’s about people who have broken the criminal law and posed dangers to all of society, and allowing that behaviour damages society. It is not the job of the criminal system to take from one to give to another. It’s to decide whether a person has committed a crime that harms a member of society or society as a whole, and then under the rules and laws that exist, what to do with that person to maintain the peaceful running of society. Why do we do this?
A rich person has money. A poor person does not have money. A punishment to take money will cripple a poor person, but may not have any effect on a rich person. In fact, the rich person may simply pay off the money without even caring. In Beijing, the fine for speeding is less than £20 (Beijing Expat Service Centre, 2019). So many rich people simply speed dangerously, uncaring if they get caught, and pay when they do. It creates two legal systems; one for the rich, and one for the poor.
But both a rich and a poor person has a limited amount of freedom within their life-spans. In fact, a rich person has potentially more freedom (as they can do more things) in their life-span, making time more valuable to them. So when we remove that freedom (via jail, or taking away their license, or whatever), it harms the wealthy as much, if not more, than the poor. It’s a fairer system than simply money.
If you believe that you can simply figure out a percentage rate to tax the rich to harm them equally as the poor, see the difficulty that is getting rich people and companies to pay taxes.
The Libertarian Manifesto (thus far) is a case of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing. A single sentence idea that under scrutiny either makes no sense for the United Kingdom, goes against Libertarian principles, or increases the tax burden on the public (which is the primary Libertarian call; tax is theft).
It is a collection of ideas that appeals to a very small amount of people; people who may agree with the ideology, and would put that ideology into practise without considering the practical effects; I am once again reminded of a Libertarian party member who called such effects as “simulations” even when provided with evidence to the contrary.
It is a manifesto that must be seen as singularly unelectable in the United Kingdom. I agree with quite a few policies; (reducing wasteful government spending, fairer sentencing, reducing sentences for people do not need to be in jail, helping the mentally ill, retraining the prisoners, for example), but let me tell you what will be said: Regarding austerity and no deficit spending- “cruel, cold, uncaring”. Regarding fair gender imprisonment- “women hating, incels”. Regarding educating prisoners- “cares more about prisoners than innocent students”. Regarding using money instead of jail for crimes - “Works for the rich, buy innocence, corrupt”. The Libertarians are unelectable in practise.
Perhaps we should be thankful for that; it seems that most of the policies cannot be done without spending into deficit (it costs a lot of money to provide freedom, ironically), or the ideas cannot be done without releasing a lot of dangerous people into society. For a party that wants to reduce spending as a primary principle of their ideology, in the first page of every version of the manifesto, most of the policies need it. They would also move the legal system into a “Get out of jail” card if you can afford to pay it; one rule for the rich, another for the poor.
As expected from a party who relies on the NAP (Non-Aggression Principle) to punish anyone who dares harm another party, they are as focused on putting people, and keeping people in jail (one half of the manifesto is a list of crimes they want life in prison for; including for the second instance of rape, but not the first!), while providing lip-service to the injustices of a government they do not trust. It’s a confusing read and a mess of policies.
If you’ve enjoyed reading this, please consider following me on Twitter @LeonDeclis or on Apple News on the Idea Meritocracy channel. There is also a Facebook page at @IdeaMeritocracyEcon. Have a nice day!
Please feel free to read any of the sources yourself for a deeper understanding of the events or topics mentioned in this article. This is a running biography; as the five parts are written, each article will include the full bibliography thus far.
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