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In report on prison work schemes, Policy Exchange recommends "real work" with fair pay

By Matthew Barrett
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6a00d83451b31c69e201538e1e85df970b-200wiToday Policy Exchange published its latest report, Inside Job. This report focuses on work schemes in the prison system, and how they could be improved. 

It finds that there are many shortcomings with the current work regime. The report recommends a normal working week for prisoners, as a better way of engaging with society and stopping re-offending. At present, most prisoners leave custody without adequate discipline and work ethic for a working life. 

Faults with the current work system include:

  • The average weekly hours worked by prisoners fell from 13.3 hours per week in 2005-06 to 11.8 hours per week in 2009-10
  • In spite of a 70% growth in the prison population since 1995, the number of prisoners working in prison workshops has only grown by 7%
  • As a proportion of total prison capacity, prison work places were 17% in 1995, but are only 11% today
  • Policy Exchange found no evidence of a private company directly employing inmates in a business operating inside a prison in England and Wales
  • Prisoners currently only receive £9.60 per week for their work
  • They pay no tax on this figure, and victims receive no compensation from prisoners' earnings

Recommendations include:

  • Prisoners should be paid fairly for the work they undertake. A Prison Minimum Wage (PMW) should therefore be created. It would be less than the National Minimum Wage
  • A Prison Minimum Wage could be set at £3.10 per hour. Tax and National Insurance contributions would also be paid by prisoners
  • This means prisoners are not exploited, and don't earn too much
  • Their wage could be split between compensation for victims, a management charge, and to provide for resettlement after leaving custody. This would leave the prisoner around 70p per hour
  • Every year more than £6m would be raised for victims, £6m to fund resettlement, £6m as a management fee for the prison and almost £3m would be collected in tax and NI receipts
  • Businesses should be allowed to bring commercial activity to prison workshops
  • The capabilities of prisoners and the needs of business should be aligned 
  • There should be greater transparency about the work prisoners carry out
  • A new category of prisoner - Category W - those who are able and appropriate to work, should be considered

Blair Gibbs, the Head of Crime and Justice at Policy Exchange, wrote for the Daily Telegraph today, on the report. He said:

"If chosen by an employer, the job in prison should be a real one for a commercial end. We need a market in prison work, not a planned economy. Companies could be required to pay a "prison minimum wage" – one that takes account of the living costs that prisons provide. But prisoners should not benefit without paying back, so wages should incur deductions. After tax and victim compensation, this might leave prisoners with 70p an hour.

This would be more than the token wages paid now and high enough to encourage more prisoners to work, but not so high that inmates accrue vast sums. If they work full-time and earn more, then they could save into a pot to spend on housing when they are released. Only by paying prisoners a fair wage will they earn enough to start paying back. A low wage would attract businesses to expand work, and if just 5,000 prisoners were employed in these real-work placements, the wage deductions over five years could raise £30 million for crime victims alone and help cover some of the costs of imprisonment."

You can read the full report here


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