The front page of the Metro this morning carried a story about prisoners being used as workers by the likes of M&S and other big firms.
The Independent and many other papers also have the story. I’ve not dared look to see what the Daily Mail think about it.
Predictably there are already concerns being aired that inmates (who are paid between £7 to £20 a week) will be taking jobs away from law-abiding citizens because they can work for much less.
That’s a valid concern, but one that’s partly addressed by paying inmates properly.
They wouldn’t get access to all of the funds whilst they’re in prison – there’s not much to spend money on in there. But on their release they’ll at least have some savings.
If you’re released from prison with sod all you’re far more likely to re-offend. Big businesses shouldn’t be able to take advantage of inmates as cheap labour.
Then there’s the argument that prisoners shouldn’t be allowed to work or make money or have any sort of help not available to the man on the street. This is a silly argument. They’re in prison as punishment, not for punishment.
Believe me, being locked away from society and your loved ones and losing your freedom is plenty punishment enough. If you don’t give them help to get their lives back on track then they’re only going to re-offend and cost society even more – and not just the financial cost of courts, police and keeping them in prison. But the costs of the crimes committed, the victims lives affected, the broken homes and the knock-on effect to their children and families.
Yes, it feels wrong to give help to wrong-doers. But to not do so is a knee-jerk reaction.
In fact, I think this “getting prisoners to work” initiative should go a big step further. There are lots of parallels between some forms of criminality and entrepreneurship.
Take drug dealing for example. Many people who are drug dealers start in their late teens when they see all their mates buying bags of weed for £15. They realise they can buy in bulk at a lower price, sell some to their friends and make a little bit of profit and have their own personal stash paid for.
It’s illegal, definitely. But isn’t it also the definition of entrepreneurialism? Spotting an opportunity to make money and going for it?
The paralells continue further up the drug trafficking industry. Trafficking gangs with couriers flying ectasy from the UK to the US realise they have willing mules coming back empty handed. Give them cocaine to bring back from the US to the UK! In a boardroom that would be called “sweating the assets”.
Calculated risks, buying in volume and selling in smaller quantities at a higher price, dealing with competition, paying workers, strategic alliances. The list of parallels go on and on.
There are some very very good entrepreneurs in prison. Now imagine they used those powers for good instead of evil!
Inmates should be given an opportunity to pitch business ideas and the best of them should get help and funding on their release to make them a reality. We want these people to be productive members of society, right? And if they can create jobs and wealth too then that’s got to be a Good Thing.
In open prisons there are many “white collar” criminals. HMP Ford for example is full of people with extensive business knowledge and I bet they’d be more than willing to spend their time mentoring other inmates and helping them construct a business plan.
We’ve got the raw ingredients to make this happen. All we need now is the political will.