Nationals revolving prison door | The Jackal

30 Jan 2013

Nationals revolving prison door

Today the NZ Herald reported:

Government announces 40-hours of work a week for inmates in plan to cut boredom and reoffending.

Up to 1400 inmates will be working 40 hours a week - without pay - by the end of this year as part of a plan to create more "working prisons" in New Zealand.

Prime Minister John Key announced in his first speech to Parliament for the year that the number of prisons with fulltime work programmes would be expanded as part of a drive to cut reoffending.

Will making prisoners work 40 hours a week with no pay cut recidivism rates? This is a somewhat complicated question to answer, being that no studies have been conducted in New Zealand to verify the Prime Ministers claims.

Instead we have to look to where the prison policy National has been copying at the behest of the Sensible Sentencing Trust is coming from, the United States.

A study conducted in 2004 by the Developing Justice Coalition (PDF) found:

Work programs can be administered while in prison to provide inmates with experience and skills that increase their employability upon release. There is no national program designed to provide inmates with useful opportunities to work while in prison. The types of programs that are in place, however, are not necessarily designed to reduce recidivism. Work programs are implemented for a variety of reasons, including earning revenue for the prison and occupying and pacifying inmates. Although the programs were not specifically intended to reduce recidivism, studies of some work programs report reduced recidivism rates, but qualify these findings by admitting biased data. As mentioned earlier, the selfselection process of program participants results in a group who are less likely to revert to criminal behavior with or without the program. Studies have shown substantial effects of employment programs on reducing recidivism for older men.

So only work programs where prisoners have a choice have shown any benefit in reducing recidivism rates and older men are shown to respond best. Typically effective work programs include courses on job preparedness, career development skills and help with job placement.

Other things that have been shown to actually reduce recidivism include sophisticated risk assessments, meticulous re-entry planning and post-release supervision carefully tailored to each offender’s circumstances.

Clearly John Key isn't talking about voluntary work programs or any of these other worthwhile things when he blathers on about the plan to create more “working prisons”. The Prime Minister obviously just wants to create a large group of people who will work for free.

Asked whether working prisons were a form of cheap labour, Mr Key said: "Not really. There already are work programmes which are ... sometimes controversial because they take work ... off the private sector. But the aim here is to build up that skill base.

Giving prisoners menial work for 40 hours per week with no pay has no benefit to society or the prisoner... It only benefits those who are using the free labour force.

Therefor the main effect to Nationals prison privatization and unpaid work program will be to undercut the job seeker who will often be competing for the same position as prisoners. They will of course not be able to compete, because the prisoners are being paid nothing. This is more commonly known as slavery and along with having absolutely nothing to do with reducing recidivism rates, is currently against international law.

Another point to make is that putting released prisoners into lowly paid jobs upon their release without any career path doesn’t reduce the recidivism rate either.  There’s no question however that released prisoners need employment to avoid involvement in criminal activity, but it’s only high quality jobs in terms of pay rates and/or viable career paths that have been shown to reduce recidivism.

So the main problem is the creation of enough well paid jobs, and that’s an area where National is completely failing.

Instead of learning from the United States' mistakes, National seem intent on copying the worst their system has to offer. This is the height of stupidity, being that the US had a re-incarceration rate within three years of 43% in 2004, largely because prisons are now treated as a business enterprise and not a way to rehabilitate people. Studies have also shown a recidivism rate 3% higher for convicts coming from private prisons.

Despite a decline in crime rates, there was a huge prison population increase of 705% between 1973 and 2009 during the private prison boom times making the United States the world leader for all the wrong reasons. They spend a staggering one in every 14 general fund dollars on incarceration, so that’s clearly not a system we should be emulating.

National has unfortunately been busy building many more jail cells than even the Corrections Department predicts will be require, while Garth McVicar has been busy scaremongering in order to get harsher penalties imposed. The SST receives funding from the private prison industry, or more precisely Serco, which puts into perspective McVicar's get tough on crime crusade.

National will fill those thousands of extra prison bunks by changing laws to ensure more low-risk offenders are sent to prison instead of granting them probation. That’s what the right wings attack on the Justice system and particularly legal aid was really all about... Creating more prisoners.

After all, John Key has made no secret of wanting to lower wages even more, and having a slave labour force available will do just that.