Justice Secretary Ken Clarke has made his intention clear that prisoners should be fully employed whilst in prison, and in readiness for this he has commenced the Prisoners Earnings Act 1996 which now comes into force next week. The Act will mean that prison governors may make deductions from prisoners earnings for various though unspecified purposes.A bit early you might think given the lack of real jobs being available inside prison. Not so for those in open prisoners who are working outside in the community and who will next week will see their net income (where over £20) subjected to a levy of 40% which will be deducted by NOMS and sent to Victim Support. In fact prisoners won't even be paid directly by their employer any longer who instead must pay the wages to NOMS directly who will return what is left to the prisoner up to 5 days later. PSI 48/2011 directs governors on how to manage the process. Here's an example of what this means (extract from an article UNLOCK wrote for insidetime this month): Based on the new minimum wage which comes into effect in October, UNLOCK calculates that a person working a 37.5 hour week and earning £200.47, will have a victim levy of £72.19 deducted. This doesn’t take into account any child maintenance or court order payments, they would have to be allowed for on an individual basis. The amount returned to the prisoner will be £128.28 out of which s/he will have to pay their travel costs for home visits, meals during working hours, travel to and from work and all other requisites they might need. UNLOCK has been contacted by many prisoners whose resettlement plans have been devastated. Many have served long sentences and face the prospect of leaving prison with nothing to support them in gaining a foothold back in society. Getting to a position where a prisoner has actually managed to get outside employment is no mean feat and s/he will have worked hard for the privilege including having completed unpaid voluntary work. Most affected prisoners report that they will no longer be able to pay their debts, pay travel costs to go on home leave, support their families, save for a deposit for somewhere to live on release, pay to undertake educational or training courses, or have some money simply to pay the bills until they find their feet. Those serving life sentences have to provide resettlement plans on which their parole depends; these will be completed scuppered with the consequence that they face remaining in prison (at huge cost to the taxpayer, once prisoner reminded us). They all feel demotivated and have no incentive to go to work when they'll have little or nothing to show for it - who would? Some say they have told prison staff they will refuse to go to work - those prisoners have been threatened with losing their home leave or other unspecified "consequences". Others who fail to provide their bank account details have been told they'll lose their jobs. It isn't hard to understand why some prisoners feel that the only way they'll survive financially is to resort to the kind of activities that resulted in their imprisonment in the first place. They've served their time, worked hard and all they get is more punishment - a "slap in the face" as one prisoner described. UNLOCK has written to Ken Clarke and received no response whatsoever. Perhaps he thinks this issue is insignificant and will go away. From what we hear, it won't, and resettlement prisons will soon begin failing in their very purpose. How does this scheme square with his Rehabilitation Revolution? Rehabilitation is completely undermined. And as for supporting victims, the relatively small amount of income generated for Victim Support will doubtless have little beneficial effect for victims themselves; what is more likely is that this measure will give rise to a whole load more victims instead. Further information can be found on the UNLOCK website www.unlock.org.uk.
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