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Criminologist backs the government’s prisoners work plan

UC criminologist backs the government’s plan to make prisoners work hour weeks

January 30, 2013

The idea of providing more working prisons is a promising idea and signals a turn towards the situation of prisons in the pre-1980s era when all New Zealand prisons were working prisons and all inmates were expected to work, a University of Canterbury (UC) criminologist said today.

UC Professor Greg Newbold said prison populations began to escalate in the 1980s and the costs of keeping prisoners in work became prohibitive.

He made the comment today following Prime Minister John Key’s announcement yesterday that the Government planned to make all New Zealand prison inmates work 40-hour weeks to cut boredom and reoffending.

Professor Newbold said the problem with working prisons was that they tend to be expensive to run and were seldom economically viable.

``Most prisoners are unskilled and training them can be slow and costly. Expert training staff has to be employed, extra security has to be provided and the machinery and equipment needed to upskill prisoners can be expensive and require constant upgrading and maintenance.

``The products of prisoner labour cannot generally be sold on the open market because it is unfair for an unpaid labour force to compete with industries. Thus prison industries nearly always run at a loss.

``However, if a significant number of prisoners could be trained for careers, put into work after release and diverted from lives of crime, the added costs could be money well spent. The idea of establishing more working prisons is a bold initiative and is certainly worth a try,’’ he said.

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