According to a new scheme from Justice Secretary Ken Clarke, convicts could be working 40-hour weeks on the minimum wage of £5.80 an hour – compared with the current maximum prison wage of £9.60 a week. But in a reward system that’s really set to inspire a can-do work ethic, they’d only get to keep £20 a week, with the rest going to inmates’ families and victim groups.
It’s good to see prisoners earning a crust. We’re more used to the popular movie image of relatives delivering them, shielding a hacksaw. And there is some logic to the idea: keep them busy, encourage skills and a sense of purpose, that kind of thing. There’s also talk of the earnings going in to a fund, described by the Daily Mail in inimitable fashion as a ‘pot to which burglars, muggers, rapists and other criminals can gain access after going straight for two years’. Put it like that and it sounds ridiculous.
Of course, the idea of giving jobs to criminals is, to many, just that – especially when the economy is hardly brimming with opportunity for those inclined to plough a straighter path.
So what could this opportunity involve? There’s talk of private companies being brought in to create businesses and employing prisoners in anything from shoe repair to inputting back-office data for companies like Cisco. Patching up trainers is one thing, but given the widespread fears these days about data leaks, how much faith will people have when they learn their names and addresses are being logged into databases by the likes of Fletch from Porridge?
The Mail has calculated that if all of the country’s 85,000 inmates were to work 40 hours a week, their total income would be around £1bn. With that kind of loot they’d probably need employment rights – even a union. And we thought prison economies were all about peddling packs of cigarettes and dodgy DVDs?
Not under Clarke’s idea. Just like the economy here on the outside, this system would even punish the work-shy, with those not taking part set to lose perks like TV in their cells. Maybe such a lack of employment would drive some inmates to a life of crime. Don’t they see how this could spiral?
In an interesting twist, also in the news is a company paying private citizens to work from home monitoring CCTV cameras in stores and on streets. Using Internet Eyes, if they see something dodgy they send a text alerting the victim, and with luck could earn up to £1k when the offenders are caught.
What’s happening here? Prisoners building a £1bn-a-year industry; everyday people getting paid to keep us safe... There will be plenty of people out there saying Clarke’s got a screw loose...