Prison reforms an issue

By Anna Wallis

Prime Minister John Key has announced more prisoners will be expected to work full-time. Up to 1400 inmates will be working 40 hours a week - without pay - by the end of this year.

The move has been backed by prison reformers, but it has a few barbs. Any move to make prisoners more work fit when they get out should be considered. Getting a job with a prison record is a big ask.

But if there is any possibility working prisoners will cost other people jobs, it needs to be rethought. And it is an attractive prospect, given the allure of paying nothing for people's labour.

Prisoners already undertake work outside prisons, but this major expansion of inmate employment has to be carefully planned.

There should also be caution in what they do: for instance, most jobs require modern technology but giving prisoners more access to online services and the web has its dangers if not supervised. And it's a bit rough that so many people who have been to jail are unable to get work on the outside, but it's now okay to expect them to work for nothing.

Prisoners working and improving themselves is a good thing. Not paying, at least something for a fair day's effort, is a backward step.

And it is essential any work programme doesn't interfere with educational opportunities. But perhaps the last word should go to criminologist and former prisoner Greg Newbold.

He argues if many prisoners could be trained for careers, put into work after release and dissuaded from crime, "the added costs could be money well spent".

- Wanganui Chronicle

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