Friday, October 31, 2008

The right way to do prison work

The Herald's Simon Collins has a short piece this morning on the success of the Department of Corrections release to work scheme. This is the right way to do work in prison - prisoners are released during the day to work, are paid real wages under normal working conditions, and the costs of their "accommodation" are deducted transparently from their pay. It pays for the prisoner, and as Collins reports, it pays for the employer:

Roadworks company Fulton Hogan took a gamble by employing prisoners to help build a new motorway through Mt Roskill last year - and it has paid off in more ways than one.

The company says the 20 prisoners it took on through the prison system's release-to-work scheme have proved more reliable than many workers employed through labour hire firms, and six are still working on the motorway months after leaving jail.

This is one of Corrections' real success stories, yet its underutilised - according to the fact sheet there are only 120 places nationally. Why don't we use it more often? Firstly, it requires intensive case management and supervision to get those results. Secondly, it is regarded as "soft" by the "hang 'em high" brigade, and thus a source of flak. But most importantly, its more expensive to the department than renting their prisoners out as slave labour while paying them Chinese sweatshop rates. And so the combination of laziness, risk avoidance and cost-cutting undermine the implementation of truly effective policy.