Gordon Campbell | Parliament TV | Parliament Today | Video | Questions Of the Day | Search


Marc My Words - 13 May 2004 - NZ Idle?

Marc My Words. By Marc Alexander MP

NZ Idle? Why do we isolate criminals in prison and insulate them from the obligation to earn their own upkeep? Why do we allow them to be indolent at our expense?

After all, we do not consider it unreasonable to extend such an obligation to the law-abiding. We fool ourselves into thinking that being put in prison is full and sufficient punishment or recompense for the crime committed. Our criminal justice system is predicated on the notion that supervised restriction of mobility and exclusion from society is adequate and sufficient. But this sentiment, masquerading as law, belies the truth that sometimes we attempt to pass laws to repeal human nature. In my view, prison is the location for punishment rather than the punishment itself. The link between work and criminal offending has long been unappreciated.

For example, more than two-thirds of the prison population are unemployed at the time of sentencing; and poor work prospects constitute a huge barrier to reintegration on release providing fertile ground for re-offending. New Zealand has a long history of providing employment for prison inmates, with the expectation that employment skills will help them to reintegrate successfully into society at the completion of their sentence. It is also reasonable to conclude that the provision of work reduces tension and idleness, as well as lowering custodial management costs. Unfortunately, work programmes are currently applied haphazardly, undermining some of their intended outcomes.

Prison inmates do not have access to wages and the normal rights and benefits available for workers. They do however, have incentive payments that are not classified as salary or wages as defined by the Income Tax Act 1994, although these are still considered to be income and must be declared as earnings. Even so, PAYE and ACC levies are not deducted. I ask, why not?

There is currently a range of inmate employment activities including cooking, cleaning and maintenance; community service activities run in co-operation with local bodies, charitable trusts and marae committees; a few industries run by the Corrections Department on farms and forests, as well as some commercial industries in co-operation with the private sector.

Work should be seen as a necessary requirement on inmates to raise their basic skills levels. It reinforces the work ethic; creates incentives to support a crime-free lifestyle; and should inculcate a sense of social responsibility, as well as providing opportunities to occupy idle time productively.

From society's point of view, and in particular that of the victims, work for imprisoned criminals would diminish the sense that an offender is banished to a carefree, three square meals a day life-style, punctuated with random bouts of leisure and entertainment. Furthermore, it would be a good dose of reality for inmates to have to work, to be adequately paid, and receive a weekly wage slip with deductions for tax, board, upkeep, costs incurred in their apprehension, restitution to victims, and anything left over going to their family. The point is, work alone may not be the cure, but it is a cure.

Overseas studies show conclusively that the role of employment cannot be underestimated in breaking the cycle of offending and re-offending. We need therefore to embrace the nobility, the rehabilitative quality and the social responsibility attached to work, enforcing the ethic and principles on those who have chosen to escape them beyond the prison gates. For myself, I consider it to be an inalienable right of the law-abiding to exact recompense for an individual's betrayal of the liberty we cherish in our society. Liberty implies responsibility.respect demands it.


© Scoop Media

Parliament Headlines | Politics Headlines | Regional Headlines

Gordon Campbell: On The New Pike River Agency (And The Air Strike Wing)

Much of the sympathy the public still feels for the families of the Pike River miners has been sustained by the sense that the previous government – let alone the mining company and the processes of receivership and litigation – has never dealt honestly, or fairly, with them.

Finally, yesterday’s announcement by the Ardern government that a new state agency will be set up to assess and plan the manned re-entry to the mine (on a set timetable) goes a long way to meeting the families’ remaining request: that they be enabled, if at all possible, to bury their loved ones. More>>


Foreign Affairs: Patrick Gower Interviews Jacinda Ardern

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says discussions have already begun on how to bring climate change refugees into New Zealand under a Pacific seasonal employment plan... More>>


Gordon Campbell: On The Centre Right’s Love Of ‘Nanny State’

You’d almost think it was 2005 again. That was a time when the rugged individualists of the centre-right were being beset by government regulations on the nature of light-bulbs, the size of shower heads, the junk food available at school tuck shops and other such essentials... More>>

Speaking Of Transport: Public Engagement On Wellington Scenarios

“Our work on possible solutions for Wellington’s transport future is ongoing, but has progressed to the stage where we’re ready to share our ideas with the public and seek their feedback to help guide our next steps...” More>>


Parental Leave: National's Time-Sharing Change Fails

National has proposed a change to the Parental Leave and Employment Protection Amendment Bill that would allow both parents to take paid parental leave at the same time, if that is what suits them best. More>>


Train Free Thursday: Workers Strike To Defend Terms Of Employment

"They signed up to these conditions a year ago when they got the contract for Wellington's rail services. Now they're trying to increase profits by squeezing frontline workers." More>>


Seclusion: Ombudsman Emphasises Importance Of Monitoring

Disability Rights Commissioner Paula Tesoriero says that while there have been changes to the Education (Update) Amendment Act 2017 to prohibit the use of seclusion, the report is an important reminder of the importance of regular monitoring of schools. More>>





Featured InfoPages

Opening the Election