The Dim-Post

January 30, 2013

Doesn’t it seem amazing that it took National this long to play the ‘prison labour’ card?

Filed under: psuedopolitics — danylmc @ 10:08 am

If anything will resolve the high exchange rate, urban housing crisis, low wages and exodus to Australia, surely it’s convict labour.

I don’t have any moral/philosophical objection to making prisoners work to offset the cost of their imprisonment, or help skill them up to re-integrate them ‘back into society’, but if you combine it with National’s policy of private prison management, it’s not hard to see how the goals of rehabilitating and releasing prisoners could clash with the prospect of having a subsidised compulsory zero-cost workforce.


  1. There is no manufacturing crisis…

    Comment by Jimmy — January 30, 2013 @ 10:14 am

  2. Key is showing his compassionate side, giving beneficiaries a break for a few days…

    Comment by Me Too — January 30, 2013 @ 10:20 am

  3. What with the three strikes law, compulsory prison labour and kowtowing to foreign corporations I think National has stumbled on the (John)key to competing with China, solving the emigration issue and keeping brown people in their place! Next we’ll chain them and set them shufflin’ along the road in chain gangs to delight the hang ‘em high brigade. Stephen Franks will love it!! Win, win win!

    “…or help skill them up… …could clash with the prospect of having a subsidised compulsory zero-cost workforce…”

    The work done will all be low skill, work gang stuff – the firewood business is now dominated by prison labour, commercial operators have been driven out of business because they can’t compete with .40c an hour slave labour set to chopping wood.

    The prison industrial complex heavily funds law and order fanatics in the USA, where a ready parade of politicians see it as a new way of extending Jim Crow laws to non-whites. Already here in NZ Garth McVicar won’t deny he receives funding from private prison operators. We must at all costs resist the prison-industrial complex getting a foothold in this country.

    P.S. I posted this already in the wrong thread – you can delete that other one if you wish Danyl!

    Comment by Sanctuary — January 30, 2013 @ 10:28 am

  4. Warden Norton’s undercutting of local contractors to build public works in the Shawshank Redemption comes to mind here…

    Comment by Cam — January 30, 2013 @ 10:34 am

  5. Best argument for it is evidence that it helps with rehabilitation. Best argument against is that you never never ever ever ever ever never ever ever want incarceration to be a profit center for the state; imprisonment should be costly to the state so that it does not want to incarcerate lightly. I worry more about losses from the latter than about gains from the former, but don’t know which way the net effect runs.

    Comment by Eric Crampton (@EricCrampton) — January 30, 2013 @ 11:29 am

  6. Given that it costs about 90k/yr to lock someone up, the labour recovery would be about $50/hr (assuming 1800 working hours p/a tax paid, no student loan).
    My guess is that the bottom will be falling out of the contract .NET market pretty soon.

    This is bad news for TradeMe (and Paula Bennett)!

    Comment by Gregor W — January 30, 2013 @ 11:44 am

  7. “…Given that it costs about 90k/yr to lock someone up…”

    I often wonder what that figure is made up of. Given crony capitalism as practiced in NZ inc under National, how much of that could/would be externalised to the taxpayer?

    Comment by Sanctuary — January 30, 2013 @ 12:39 pm

  8. I’m wondering what the big deal is? Prisoners have managed the Justice Dept farms for many decades, same with forests, ran the JD sawmills, supplied 100% of food requirements to at least one military base in the past, ran a shoe factory and so on.

    Whats also equally prosaic is private enterprise has complained about these activities forever.

    Its like the manufacturing shilling going on at the moment. It used to be 30% of the economy but like in the US is now down to about 10% because the public really doesn’t care where the goods come from.. so long as they are cheap and of an acceptable quality.

    If prisoners could make cheap shoes suited to the broad NZ foot and a good range of XOS shirts then watch the NZ public go for them.. why, you could put “Proudly Made In NZ” on them and satisfy the xenophobes as well!


    Comment by JC — January 30, 2013 @ 12:57 pm

  9. I agree, Danyl…The incentives are all wrong around such schemes in the context of operating private prisons. But this is just one more thing National won’t be honest about. Add it to the list. Voters are crazy to let them get away with this one. Add it to this list of things that mean voters must be crazy.

    Comment by Steve (@nza1) — January 30, 2013 @ 2:18 pm

  10. @JC – the big deal is, it is prison labour being used as little more than slaves. Prisoners don’t appear to get a choice about whether they work or not, and the ‘wages’ they are paid are a pittance – a few coins an hour. Aside from the immorality of forcing people to work for Key for (virtually) free, there are practical impacts undermining non-prison workers.

    I have no problem with a voluntary prison labour scheme whose aim is to train prisoners in good work habits and employable job skills, *so long as* prisoners are paid award wages and conditions – at least the minimum adult wage – so prison labour isn’t used to drive down non-prison wages. But this should be overseen by independent scrutiny, say by the Civil Liberties folks appointing the Board that runs prison labour within prisons (ie not run by prison authorities or companies).

    Caution is required here, or we enter a very dark place of abusing prisoners…

    Comment by bob — January 30, 2013 @ 2:59 pm

  11. Re the $90,000 per prisoner figure. I was curious so did a bit of googling.

    A. Total budget for ‘Prison-based Custodial Services MCOA (M18)’ = $758,794,000 (made up of $603,840,000 for sentenced prisoners and $154,944,000 for those on remand).(From Treasury website).
    B. Total prison population as at 31 March 2012 = 8,698 (from Dept of Corrections fact page)

    A/B = $87,237.76, looks pretty damn close to $90,0000 to me!

    (Note A is the total Corrections budget, which also includes non-custodial sentences, rehabilitation and capital expenditure and so on, it’s the amount it costs to actually lock people up).

    Comment by Conrad — January 30, 2013 @ 3:12 pm

  12. Bah, my note should read “A is NOT the total Corrections budget…”

    Comment by Conrad — January 30, 2013 @ 3:13 pm

  13. I think the rehabilitative value of doing totally unskilled labour is pretty minimal.

    Comment by Hugh — January 30, 2013 @ 3:20 pm

  14. The original “exodus to Australia” was all about the convict labour. Not that they ever found them anything useful to do, but at least the gutters of London weren’t cluttered with handkerchief thieves.

    (The original colonial interest in NZ was partly to stop the convicts escaping here).

    Comment by richdrich — January 30, 2013 @ 5:16 pm

  15. 40 hours a week of hard labour is quite a lot. If it’s unskilled, then yeah, there’s not a lot of rehabilitative value, especially if all the jobs in that industry are taken by prisoners once people get out! But it’s better than doing nothing.

    As for the money side of it:
    – giving private prisons the right to run their own slave labour gangs stinks to high heaven and would require a LOT of oversight
    – wider social/economy issue of undercutting the wider workforce
    – rehabilitation is pretty important, and actually paying people for work they do has to help with that! Quite aside from that, for people to come out the other end with actual earnings and be able to start life again (rather than having to scrape their way up from the bottom which would inevitably lead to a high risk of reoffending) can only be beneficial for society and the individuals.

    Comment by flynn_the_cat — January 30, 2013 @ 5:44 pm

  16. Well, to make it worthwhile, we’ll just have to start locking up people who have jobs making more than $90k a year. That should yield a healthy profit.

    Imagine a dystopian future where the corrupt police hunt you and convict you on fake charges because of your highly qualified skill set and make you work for free in corporate run private prisons.

    There could be another book in there somewhere, Danyl.

    Comment by eszett — January 30, 2013 @ 7:09 pm

  17. @10,

    Here’s the UN minimum rules on work by prisoners, note that “2” says all prisoners should be required to work.


    71. (1) Prison labour must not be of an afflictive nature.

    (2) All prisoners under sentence shall be required to work, subject to their physical and mental fitness as determined by the medical officer.

    (3) Sufficient work of a useful nature shall be provided to keep prisoners actively employed for a normal working day.

    (4) So far as possible the work provided shall be such as will maintain or increase the prisoners, ability to earn an honest living after release.

    (5) Vocational training in useful trades shall be provided for prisoners able to profit thereby and especially for young prisoners.

    (6) Within the limits compatible with proper vocational selection and with the requirements of institutional administration and discipline, the prisoners shall be able to choose the type of work they wish to perform.

    72. (1) The organization and methods of work in the institutions shall resemble as closely as possible those of similar work outside institutions, so as to prepare prisoners for the conditions of normal occupational life.

    (2) The interests of the prisoners and of their vocational training, however, must not be subordinated to the purpose of making a financial profit from an industry in the institution.

    73. (1) Preferably institutional industries and farms should be operated directly by the administration and not by private contractors.

    (2) Where prisoners are employed in work not controlled by the administration, they shall always be under the supervision of the institution’s personnel. Unless the work is for other departments of the government the full normal wages for such work shall be paid to the administration by the persons to whom the labour is supplied, account being taken of the output of the prisoners.

    74. (1) The precautions laid down to protect the safety and health of free workmen shall be equally observed in institutions.

    (2) Provision shall be made to indemnify prisoners against industrial injury, including occupational disease, on terms not less favourable than those extended by law to free workmen.

    75. (1) The maximum daily and weekly working hours of the prisoners shall be fixed by law or by administrative regulation, taking into account local rules or custom in regard to the employment of free workmen.

    (2) The hours so fixed shall leave one rest day a week and sufficient time for education and other activities required as part of the treatment and rehabilitation of the prisoners.

    76. (1) There shall be a system of equitable remuneration of the work of prisoners.

    (2) Under the system prisoners shall be allowed to spend at least a part of their earnings on approved articles for their own use and to send a part of their earnings to their family.

    (3) The system should also provide that a part of the earnings should be set aside by the administration so as to constitute a savings fund to be handed over to the prisoner on his release.

    Comment by JC — January 31, 2013 @ 11:47 am

  18. @ JC – Thanks for that. Of course, (2) requiring prisoners to work would mean so much more if the government actually adhered to all the rest eh? Especially stuff like not undermining outside workers jobs, and not letting private companies make profits of prison slaves, hmmm?

    But actually, this is a fundamental ideological watershed. If Key & National claim the state (ie Corrections Dept) is capable of finding and organising every week enough work to keep thousands of prisoners employed full time, then they have no excuse not to do the same for all the unemployed Kiwis, right? And if the Labour Dept (sorry, Ministry of BIE) and Social Development claim they can’t manage all that, hand the job to Corrections, who clearly (claim they) can.

    So, rock up to your WINZ office, pick or get assigned a 40 hour a week job, pickup your work uniform and gear and get to it. Paycheck from Paula every fortnight. Pay of course must be minimum wage or better, with mandatory overtime if they want evenings, weekend or more than 40 hours a week. That way they won’t be undercutting the free market paragons.

    Jobs for all has finally arrived! Not the legacy Key was looking to leave, but hey….. Another ideological blockade torn down 🙂

    Comment by bob — January 31, 2013 @ 1:34 pm

  19. Except there are roughly 9,000 prisoners (including those on remand) compared to about 160,000 on the unemployment benefit.

    Comment by Conrad — January 31, 2013 @ 2:43 pm

  20. @19,

    The employment rate is already quite high at 51% and going up. From the Corrections website:

    “Prisoner Employment Strategy

    The Prisoner Employment Strategy (PES) was introduced in July 2006 with the goal of increasing the number of prisoners engaged in industry based employment or training from 40 to 60 percent of the prison population by 2010. At the time this represented an additional 1,900 prisoner placements in employment or training.

    In February 2009, 51 percent of the prison population or 4,065 prisoners were engaged in some form of employment or training. This represents an increase of almost 1,000 prisoner employment and training positions since June 2006. Sixty six percent of sentenced prisoners are now active.

    The Department is developing a new strategy to boost the number of prisoners learning industry-based skills by a further 1,000 prisoners by 2011. Part of that strategy will involve engaging with private companies about meaningful work and training for prisoners.

    Initiatives are being developed to expand literacy and numeracy programmes so that more prisoners leave prison able to read, write and do maths better than when they arrived.”

    This is why I say the new employment strategy is not that big a deal. If anything credit should be given to Labour for kicking up the percentages in 2006.


    Comment by JC — January 31, 2013 @ 3:33 pm

  21. Or alternatively you could blame Labour for introducing slave labour camps under vicious guards, inhumane conditions and destroying the private sector.


    Comment by JC — January 31, 2013 @ 3:39 pm

  22. Conrad – yes, but prisoners have very low literacy, numeracy, usable skill sets, and a tendency to criminal activity. All this makes the job of employing criminals far, far harder than organising work for the unemployed. Of course there are those on the dole with similar problems, but only a fraction of those in jail with such problems.

    JC – except, there is a world of difference between what you show is currently being run in prisons and what Key announced to the House. The current scheme is clearly voluntary (uptake of about half of prisoners), whereas Key wanted compulsory. Etc, etc. But yes, there are the same concerns under Labour’s prison labour scheme – the need to not undermine outside jobs, etc.

    There is a huge difference between offering prisoners a chance to educate themselves, train and get into the habit of working while still in jail (without undercutting outside firms), and forcing prisoners to work for a tiny fraction of the minimum wage, with highly coercive punishments if they refuse.

    That you can’t or won’t see that speaks volumes about your moral compass.

    Comment by bob — February 1, 2013 @ 2:28 pm

  23. “The current scheme is clearly voluntary (uptake of about half of prisoners), whereas Key wanted compulsory.”

    That is, Key’s version is closer to the UN’s position of “All prisoners shall be required to work”.

    The UN recognises, even if you don’t, that its in the interests of prisoners and society to apply some degree of coercion to force them to work to improve the chances of reintegration into society after prison, reduce re-offending and develop skills and work habits. I accept this may only work for a significant minority of prisoners but it does result in fewer victims and less costs to the tax payer.


    Comment by JC — February 1, 2013 @ 8:30 pm

  24. Jews, gays, catholics, women, cripples, Maori, beneficiaries, health “bureaucrats”, councils, teachers…..yep, criminals haven’t been used yet Prime Miinister!.

    Bugger all those others for winning, Judith might be our last.

    Councils could be a big mistake but John. Eating our own Pete Georgeified base. Back off? ok.

    Comment by ak — February 1, 2013 @ 8:58 pm

  25. I like this scheme because it will give prisoners money when they leave prison so they can begin a life that has less of a chance of reoffending than if they did not do the work in prison and earn this money.

    Comment by Dan — February 8, 2013 @ 12:13 pm

  26. Dan = Molly Bloom.

    Comment by Gregor W — February 8, 2013 @ 12:32 pm

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