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Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Prisoners to earn minimum wage

Prisoners to earn minimum wage

Prisoners will get a substantial pay rise in a reform of behind-bars work to be announced by Kenneth Clarke.

Inmates will effectively be required to do full-time jobs in jail, the Justice Secretary will say.

In exchange, they will earn a "real" wage. Much of the money will be withheld and paid to victims' support funds.

Prisoners who work are paid at least £4 a week, but several schemes allow inmates to earn much more. The average prisoner who works is paid about £10 a week.

The Justice Secretary will announce that under his plan, prisoners could get the minimum wage of £5.60 an hour.

Much of the money they earn will be withheld by prison governors. Some money will be used for a new Victims' Fund and some could help pay for the prison system.

Mr Clarke's aides said last night that prisoners would not be substantially better off.

The average working prisoner might keep about £20 for a 40-hour week, they said.

However, the prospect of inmates getting large pay rises could prove controversial.

Prisoners are not paid in cash but receive "credits" to buy controlled items including phonecards and tobacco.

Most prisons offer inmates the chance to do paid work in kitchens, laundries and gardens. Attending education, training and rehabilitation programmes also earns payments.

Mr Clarke will tell the Conservative grassroots today that making prisoners work will ultimately make it less likely that they will return to jail.

Comment: Whilst I support prisoners being paid the National Minimum Wage, I do not agree with them being taxed for a victims fund because this only makes the prisoners victims of a tax not payable by anyone else in the country and this is blatant discrimination.

Prisoners to improve earnings under Justice Secretary’s proposals (Times £)

Francis Elliott and Richard Ford
Last updated October 5 2010 12:01AM

Prisoners taking up new jobs in jail will get paid at least the minimum wage tax-free, under proposals to increase prison employment to be announced today.

They will be able to keep up to double the current amount, make deposits into savings accounts and send some earnings to families, Ken Clarke will tell the Conservative Party Conference. Although a deduction of about a fifth will be made for victims’ groups, the plans mean a prisoner could earn at least £185 for a 40-hour week.

The move is part of ambitious proposals to end “enforced idleness” among the majority of the 85,000 inmates in jail in England and Wales. Mr Clarke, the Justice Secretary, will say that the plans are part of an effort to instil a “regime of hard work” in jails.

He will add: “Most prisoners lead a life of enforced, bored idleness, where getting out of bed is optional. If we want to reduce the crimes these people will commit when they get out, while boosting the amount that can be provided for victim support, we need as many prisoners as possible to work hard for regular working hours.”

Mr Clarke’s aides insisted that prisoners would only be able to spend around £20 but confirmed that options for the remaining earnings included remittances to family and payments into a post-release savings account.

The minimum wage, currently £5.93 an hour for workers aged 21 and over, would be paid only for new jobs in private sector commercial operations in jails and would not apply to current prison pay, which currently has a minimum rate of £4 per week.

Crispin Blunt, the Prisons Minister, admitted yesterday that providing prisoners with more full-time jobs and allowing them to keep more of their earnings could prove controversial. Prisoners could be limited to making goods currently imported from outside the EU to stop the impression that prisoners were “stealing legitimate people’s jobs”. Prison charities gave a cautious welcome to the plans but raised concerns over the take-up from firms invited to set up factories in jail. Bobby Cummines of Unlock said employers would be unwilling to train those on short-term sentences.

Prisoners who are employed in workshops currently earn between £8 and £10 a week but those carrying out basic jobs such as cleaning earn £4 a week. Two years ago Gordon Brown scrapped proposals to increase the minimum pay from £4 to £5.50p for work, the first increase since the mid-1990s.

The prison service has found it extremely difficult to bring the private sector into jails to provide training, skills and work for inmates. Firms have been reluctant because of worries over their corporate image, the costs of setting up workplaces in jails and because many short-term prisoners are not in jail long enough to be trained.

Introducing a 40-hour working week for prisoners will radically alter the way jails are run, involving changes to shifts and working practices. In addition, budget cuts have forced the prison service to lock down jails after lunch on Fridays so that no work, education or training can take place until Monday.

Timpson, the high street shoe repairer, has workshops in two jails and about 50 inmates are training at any one time. Inmates are guaranteed a 16-week trial in a Timpson shop when they are released. Results have been mixed: 25 per cent of trainees leave jail and Timpson never hears from them again; of the remainder about a third fail to achieve permanent work with the firm.

Comment: If prisoners are paid to do essential jobs within the prison, then they should be paid the same rate as anybody else working in the public sector. Also, I don't agree with the idea that those prisoners who will work in the private sector will only do work from non EU countries. What is being forgotten in all of this is the principle of no taxation without representation. The Association of Prisoners, the prisoners union, is all for improving the prisoners lot but will resist moves which makes them slaves of the state.

Part of the cash prisoners earn would go to their victims, part to the prisoner's family to reduce their dependency on benefits, and they will keep part themselves. Ministers are also exploring deducting the cost of the prisoners' board and lodging.

Justice ministry officials are considering whether prisoners could put their remaining wages into a pot to which they would gain access if they stayed out of trouble for two years after leaving jail.

Comment: All this taking out will leave none for the prisoner and will only mean they are paying for their own imprisonment which is a breach of their human rights.

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