It has been reported widely in the news cycle this morning that prisoners in the UK will now be forced to take on what amounts to full time jobs. Although headlines speak of a minimum wage, inmates will only receive credits to buy prison amenities, substantially lower in value than a minimum wage. The main supporter of this scheme is Justice Secretary Ken Clarke.
In the Telegraph’s “Prisoners to earn minimum wage” article, they immediately contradict their own headline by reporting:
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.
If one reads between the lines, prisoners will not be getting anywhere near a minimum wage.
The scope of the framed debate as the news cycle continues throughout the day, appears to go no further than claiming – lazy prisoners will be forced to help pay their victims, which sounds reasonable, but one very important question that doesn’t seem to be asked, let alone answered, is who are the prisoners working for?
The Mirror states that:
Ministers want more firms to do business behind bars and are sending jail governors out to tout for trade.
Justice Secretary Ken Clarke told Sky News:
“…We will make it easier for Prison governors to bring more private companies into their jails to create well-run businesses, employing prisoners in regular, nine-to-five jobs…There are already some excellent examples to build on. Timpsons, the family firm of our MP for Crewe and Nantwich, Edward Timpson, is one.”
Prison Minster Crispin Blunt…put it rather..blunty:
He said he wanted Britain to be a “global leader” in inviting businesses to come into prisons to take advantage of the “effectively free labour“.
Having private for-profit companies utilize labour from prison inmates, brings up a whole host of other questions about the scheme that should be the focal point of the story.
For example, if firms are allowed to pay prison “employees” lower than regular employees or go as far as this “free labour”, we may get a dangerous trend whereby regular citizens lose work to those that are incarcerated, in a slave labour type system.
Also, there’s potential corruption in having a financial incentive to have more people in jail. This could be the start of some kind of Prison Industrial Complex.
Mainstream media commenters are already tossing around ideas like this one from the Sky News article:
just think if Nike/Adidias could get a perminent workforce of 85,000 at £9 a week wages, how much profit they could make from their brands?
this would stop imports and close chinese footwear factories, which no doubt a PC-do gooder would say was against chinese human rights!
we could actually compete with cheap child labour made goods from india and pakistan.
Of course the problem with this concept is that all we’d really be doing is swapping one country’s slaves for our own. As a moral society do we really want a prison population working to keep the big corporations rich?
Another commenter more aptly wrote:
This reminds me of Shawshank redemption where business handover backhanders for cheap labour and local businesses close. I bet within six month call me Dave reduces the minimum wage to £4.00 something.
There has yet to be any solid dialogue about these concerns.
In a floundering economy, what we need for growth and well-being is more jobs for regular UK citizens at a fairer paid wage. Opening a prison racket is no different than a company closing shop and shipping over to China.
The United States is much further ahead of us in this controversial system. They not only have corporations that contract cheap prison labor, but over 260 private prisons that are run for-profit by corporations.
I was surprised to find while researching for this article that the UK has 12 privately operated prisons. It appears slave labour is just the next step.