Wednesday, January 30, 2013

National's economic plan: Prison slave labour

So, buried in yesterdays insults from the Prime Minister there was apparently one new plan: a massive expansion of prison slave labour:

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.

Inmates at Rolleston Prison had already begun 40-hour weeks in response to a demand for labour for the rebuild of Christchurch.

Corrections Minister Anne Tolley confirmed this initiative would be extended to all prisoners at Rolleston, and also to North Island prisons Tongariro-Rangipo and Auckland Women's Corrections Facility.

I have no problem with prisoners working on everyday tasks such as cooking and cleaning within their prison, as part of genuinely educational training schemes, or for a commercial wage with reasonable deductions to cover accommodation (but not incarceration) costs. Corrections' "release to work" scheme, where prisoners are released during the day near the end of their sentence to work in an ordinary workplace is an example of this, and it helps reintegrate people back into the community. But that's not what National is talking about. Instead, they're planning to use the coercive power of the state to extract labour from people by force, and punish them if they refuse.

There's a name for that: slavery. And its illegal in pretty much every country in the world, including New Zealand.

But its not just a moral case - its also a practical one. Existing prison labour has been driving private sector operators out of business. An expansion will mean more of the same. Which in turn means higher unemployment and lower economic growth. But I guess National thinks that's a price worth paying in order to get the vicious sadist vote.

If National wants prisoners to work, they must do so under the same conditions that apply to everyone else: work should be voluntary, with full labour rights, a fair days wage, and transparent deductions for expenses. National's current model of keeping them in a cage, paying them nothing or a pittance, and beating them in the head with a stick if they refuse is simply forced labour and a crime against humanity.