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Monday, July 04, 2011

Prisoners plan EU legal fight against 'victim tax' on their wages

Prisoners plan EU legal fight against 'victim tax' on their wages

By Jack Doyle

Last updated at 11:45 PM on 3rd July 201

Prisoners are set to launch a legal challenge over the Government's plan to put two-fifths of their wages towards a fund for victims.

The case is being led by killer John Hirst, who took the fight for prisoners' votes to the European Court of Human Rights.

Hirst, who was jailed for hacking his landlady to death with an axe, says the Justice Secretary's proposals amount to the 'exploitation' of inmates, who would also be made to work a 40-hour week.

The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill is expected to pass by the end of the year. It includes plans to allow deductions from prisoners' earnings both while they are in jail and working in the community prior to release.

Offenders in prison workshops earn an average of £9.60 a week. Under the Government's proposals they would receive more, but pay tax and National Insurance.

In addition, around 40 per cent of their wages would go to a victims' fund. It is estimated the move would raise around £1million a year, which ministers say will help repair the harm criminals have done.

However, Hirst insists prisoners will be 'ripped off' by having cash deducted from their earnings, and should be paid the full minimum wage – currently £5.93 per hour for those over 21, rising to £6.08 in October.

'The whole idea is to exploit and that's a big no-no. Prisoners should be allowed to keep the money for themselves,' he said.

'I'm against money being deducted for victims. It's a victims' tax. It's wrong, we are going to end up with nothing. By the time they've finished it's 70p per hour, which isn't anything like the minimum wage.'

Hirst has taken his fight to the European Court of Human Rights

Hirst confirmed he is prepared to take his latest case to the European courts as well. Ken Clarke is keen to make prisoners work to help them reform their lives after they leave jail, as part of a 'rehabilitation revolution'.

Launching his Bill last month, Mr Clarke said: 'Prisons must become places of hard work and training, where prisoners are expected to work a 40-hour week, with money from their earnings deducted to support victims' groups.'

A report from the Policy Exchange think-tank this year revealed that fewer than one in ten inmates is employed in a prison workshop. They work for an average of less than 12 hours a week.

A Ministry of Justice source insisted it was right for offenders to work, and for money to be taken from their wages to help victims.

'We are absolutely determined to press ahead with the plans to make prisoners work hard in order to contribute to funding services for victims,' he said.

'It's absolutely right that prisoners should be doing something productive, which helps the people that they have harmed, instead of lying idle in their cells all day.'

Hirst was jailed for a minimum of 15 years for the attack on his landlady, Bronia Burton, near Burghfield Common, Berkshire, in 1979. He denied murder, but admitted manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility.

He was not released until 2004, after his sentence was extended by more than a decade for a string of violent crimes committed in prison.

Last year, a video on YouTube showed him smoking a joint and drinking champagne following a ruling by the ECHR on handing prisoners the vote.

The court's Grand Chamber rejected a last-ditch appeal by ministers, and in April gave them a six-month deadline for enfranchising inmates.

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