This blog is mainly about the governance and future of policing and crime services. (Police & Crime Commissioners feature quite a lot.) But there are also posts about the wider justice system. And because I am town councillor and political activist, local & national issues are covered a little, as well.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Prison works

There has been much in the news of late about the need to help prisoners prepare for life beyond the prison walls so that they do not fall back into a life of crime. As I indicate below, this is far easier said than done.

One practical thing that prisons do is to offer employment & skills training to prisoners. This has to be a good thing. (Although I am not proposing anything like the Russian labour camps where the members of Pussy Riot have now been sent, I would add!)

One of the constraints on HM Prisons is that they should not engage prisoners in work that would directly compete against local businesses. It would clearly be unethical and stupidly uneconomic to put local people on the dole just so that prisoners can do their jobs at a vastly lower rate of pay. It is my understanding that this rule often makes locating work for prisoners hard to do.

In my business, I have to be continually thinking about how to make contact with potential clients. One piece of advice I received a few years ago was to identify the organisations / businesses who might either precede or follow on from the work that I do for my clients and find ways to partner with them. I won't bore you with the full story but this got me into a conversation with a Prison Governor about 10 months ago about how he might pair up with banks to find businesses who were about to go bust.

The idea is simple: there are many businesses struggling to make ends meet, are about to default on business loans and probably go bankrupt. At this point everyone loses including all the workers who are made redundant. Why not, just before they go bust, see if it is possible for that business to relocate inside a local jail such that prisoners form part of the workforce. The operating costs would be lower and might just nudge the business back into profit. Now I know this will mean some people still losing their jobs but at least not everyone will lose their jobs - a few people will be kept on to run the business inside the prison. Moreover, it means that the prisoners are engaged in a real business making real money - and learning new skills - perhaps even getting a taste for being a (legal) entrepreneur.

That was the idea and the conversation we had a few months ago. And then last week, I received an email from my Prison Governor friend who told me he has now been seconded to look at this idea and linked ones as part of a wider strategy to innovate in the HM Prisons. We talked yesterday about the extra and linked options. I suggested that perhaps some of the pay that prisoners might be 'earning' could be banked (there are limits on how much cash they can earn whilst in gaol) and then paid out on their release to help them settle back in society.

We also talked about how the FSB, IOD or BCC might be willing to partner with HM Prisons to develop these ideas. The TUC and affiliated trade unions might also be interested in lending a hand as well.

There is more but I won't reveal it all here... but watch this space.

And of course, he is in an ideal position to make contact with the organisations listed above because he is in the public sector. If I were a banker I would be more than willing to engage in a debate about these matters and look for ways to make the idea happen. And I would do this because I would be helping the public services help some prisoners stop re-offending. But if I was a banker and I was approached by G4S or Serco (for example), I might be little less inclined to help them make bigger profits, unless I could take my cut of course....

This is why we should not commodify everything!

Long live innovation and bold thinking in the public services! 


  1. So, you are all in favour of using prisoners as slave labour? I am bitterly disappointed.

    1. Absolutely not. I think with careful design and a balancing of all the interests involved, nearly everyone can win from this. As I said above, my idea includes the possibility that the wages earned by prisoners go into a pot to be accessed on their release.

      What would you propose as way forward? What would work for you?