Thursday, March 16, 2006

More on slave labour

Last month, I blogged about a particularly odious prison slave labour scheme. Inmates at the Hawke's Bay Prison were rented out to local orchards as fruit pickers, for the princely sum of 20 cents an hour. The jobs provided no real training or work skills - they were simply a way of easing a local labour shortage so that orchardists didn't have to pay higher wages.

Today, we find out how that the prison raked in $630,000 from this. Understandably, prison management is keen on expanding the scheme. After all, they have financial targets to meet...

I think this makes it even clearer that what is going on here is the use of slave labour for government profit. The prison is paid $90 per day per prisoner for the work done, and they pay out less than a tenth (and sometimes as little as a fiftieth) of that. They extract this profit by using the coercive structure of the prison to their financial advantage - prisoners are happy to accept a pittance just to get out of their cells and see something other than the same four walls for once.

This is wrong and it should be stopped. Our government should not be tolerating slavery, let alone engaging in it. While prisons should provide employment, it must provide real training rather than being unskilled labour, and prisoners should enjoy the full protection of labour laws and be paid an ordinary wage (with deductions made transparently), rather than just cigarette money.


Well (playing devil's advocate for a moment), it is really reasonable that the state incurs the total financial burden of imprisonment? Prison is an opt-in scheme, after all..
And if prisoners were to work under reasonable conditions of workload, safety and health (as opposed to slave labour), up to the cost of their imprisonment (ie effectively the cost of their 'board') and pocket an income once that de
bt is covered, would that be such a bad scheme?
Assuming the criminal justice worked correctly to imprison those who are really guilty (as opposed to inane schemes such as 'three strikes'), and the scheme were opt-in for prisoners, of course.
A good argument can be made for the place of work in the process of rehabilitation to give a sense of achievement, the benefits of exercise, and relief from the claustrophobia of a prision cell. It seems to me a helluva lot better use of time than watching TV.
I haven't looked at the specifics of the Hawkes Bay scheme, I'm just arguing it's not automaticall a bad scheme in principle.

Posted by Anonymous : 3/16/2006 11:02:00 AM

Unfortunately Labour don't have good left-wing credentials, and listening isn't their speciality.

Posted by Maia : 3/16/2006 03:51:00 PM

I don't have nearly so much of a problem of allowing people to work for real wages and then deducting (reasonable) food and board - but that is not what is being done in this case, or in any other prison employment scheme. I think however it is done on the very rare occassions they allow someone to "work to release".

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 3/16/2006 03:59:00 PM

"Reasonable food and board", legally, is not more than 20% of wages in the market. I don't know if that would apply to prisoners or not, it would depend on the specifics of the scheme.

Posted by Anonymous : 3/16/2006 05:37:00 PM

Taking the concept of charging prisoners for "room and board" a bit further, what would happen if a prisoner wasn't part of the employment programme (for some reason)? One possible outcome would be to present them with a bill at the end of their stay.

Not that I think it'll happen, but it's an interesting concept.

Posted by Anonymous : 3/17/2006 08:58:00 PM