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EghtesadOnline: The annual cost of holding a prison inmate in Iran is nine times as much as that of a student.

According to State Prisons Organization, caring for each inmate, which includes three meals, medical and hygienic services, cultural programs, training workshops and sport centers, annually costs a minimum of 180 million rials (more than $4,400 at market exchange rate), while the expenses for a student over the same period amount to 20 million rials ($490), the Persian daily Shahrvand reported.

An inmate’s expense is almost double that of a worker. The government spends an average of $370 per prisoner each month, while the minimum wage for workers, who are productive members of society generating added value and wealth for the country, stands at only $202 per month.

“Prevention costs less than treatment,” says economist Jamshid Pajouyan, yet economists don’t have a say in the economic decisions made by the government.

“Therefore, we spend more on treatment rather than prevention in Iran.”

Based on the latest statistics released by State Prisons Organization, currently Iran has over 220,000 inmates, according to Financial Tribune.

Multiplied by the minimum daily cost of housing these inmates, the figure reaches over $2.7 million per day and around $980 million per year.

A simple comparison can clarify how big an expense this is for the government.

In the budget bill for the 2017-18 fiscal year, the government has proposed about $270 million and $245 million to finance the ministries of culture and youth respectively. As such, the money needed to care for prisoners is four times the budget allocated for each of these ministries.

On the other hand, the annual budget for development projects stands above $7.35 billion, of which between $2.45 billion and $6.12 billion are actually allocated. So, the money spent on inmates is equal to 16-40% of the annual budget spent on development projects.

If the cost of inmate care were to decline, the government can expand infrastructure and development projects.

With over 220,000 inmates, Iran ranks 16th in the list of countries with the highest number of prisoners, according to the International Center for Prison Studies.

Bahman Keshavarz, the head of Iran Bar Association, says to reduce the cost of housing prisoners, imprisonment needs to be replaced with other forms of punishment.

Keshavarz noted that if alternative forms of punishment, such as working in productive and economic sectors, replaced imprisonment, not only would costs decline but it will also help utilize idle human resources for bringing about economic growth.

Iran prisoners