Prisonomics: Vicky Pryce

Tuesday 9th May 

Written by Jennifer Graham 

The Women’s Organisation played host to former joint-head of the UK’s Government Economic Service, Vicky Pryce where she discussed her book Prisonomics. Convicted in 2013 of perverting the course of justice by accepting driving licence penalty points actually incurred by her ex-husband, Chris Huhne, Pryce was sentenced to eight months. Upon her release, Pryce set about researching the economic and human costs of imprisoning women. Prisonomics, part memoir, part critique, details those findings.

I was genuinely curious to hear from Pryce about her experience of prison. Knowing that she had gone to the press with the story as an act of revenge against her ex-husband, I wasn’t sure I’d even like her. There was also the aspect of her privilege – Pryce entered prison with over £1000 cash in her handbag. Suffice to say, thanks to the media attention her case brought, I’d already made some conclusions about the economist.

Pryce touched briefly on the national outcry of her case, and the impact it had on her family and friends. Press intrusion, which for some would have seemed fair game – Chris Huhne was at the time an MP for Eastleigh and Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change – was something that profoundly affected close members of her family.

Although sentenced to eight months, Pryce served two. Four days at Holloway followed by the rest of her sentence in an open prison. And her status did allow for an easy ride: with all that cash she brought in, Pryce was able to buy more than enough stamps – the main form of currency in prison – for her and the girls she befriended.

Soon it became clear that perhaps this discussion wasn’t just about Pryce’s experiences but the injustice of imprisoning thousands of women in the UK annually. Pryce explained that many female prisoners are victims themselves, trapped in circumstances that lead to offending. Mothers are regularly separated from their children, resulting in uncounted costs to a child’s development. And each one imprisoned at a cost to the tax payer – £56,000 per year– that exceeds the cost of studying at Eton for a year.

Pryce is now an advocate for prison reform, with a view that prison doesn’t work, especially for women. Her role as a well-known economist places her at an advantage; she has access to those in government who have the power to change things.

Overall, Pryce came across as warm and compassionate. She clearly cares enough about the women she met in prison to want to do something about improving their experiences of the justice system. And let’s hope she succeeds, because if anything needs a revolution in this country, it’s women’s prisons.