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NRT: The left should not support prison slave labour

Written By: - Date published: 2:37 pm, September 11th, 2014 - 63 comments
Categories: crime, human rights, prisons - Tags: ,

With both Labour and the Greens supporting the plan, I/S at No Right Turn makes the case against…

The left should not support prison slave labour

Yesterday, the government announced that all prisons would become “working prisons”, with their inmates forced to work for 40 hours a week for no pay, and denied parole if they don’t. Bu what’s appalling is that Labour and the Greens immediately lined up to say “me too” to this piece of “tough on crime” bullshit.

As I’ve pointed out before, there is a name for people kept in cages and forced to work for nothing at the point of a baton. They’re called “slaves”. Quite apart from the inherent wrongness of that (it is rightly a crime in all civilised nations, including New Zealand), it drives free workers to the dole queuesviolates international law and puts exports at risk. And no left party should be supporting that.

What should they support? Education. Training. Proper work at decent wages with full employment rights. Corrections’ release to work programme is a great example of how things should be done: it treats prisoners fairly, aids rehabilitation and re-integration into the community, and doesn’t undermine non-slave businesses. But what the government is proposing is pure exploitation for the profit of some of our biggest companies. Labour and the Greens should not support it.

Correction: The Greens do not support prison slave labour. Good to know. I apologise for believing the Herald‘s report of their position.

updated to include NRT’s correction and changes to original post.

63 comments on “NRT: The left should not support prison slave labour ”

  1. Lanthanide 1

    This seems like a gross mischaracterisation of what the news article actually says:

    Labour and the Greens are backing National’s plan to get all prisoners working ***or studying fulltime*** within three years.

    Greens justice spokesman David Clendon said his party supported working prisons in principle, as long as the cheaper labour did not undercut the private sector outside.

    Inmates can earn a small income – about 60c an hour – inside jails, or market rates if they are part of the work-to-release scheme, in which inmates leave prison during the day to work for private employers.

    Emphasis mine.

    • Zorr 1.1

      Yeah. A couple of times in the last few days, I/S has deliberately interpreted news in a disingenuous way in order to make the point he wants to make. Specifically, his post on Goff’s evidence with regards the SIS OIA request that Jackal dismantled well so that I didn’t need to.

  2. Ad 2

    Why would we not want prisoners to learn to work again?
    I agree they should be paid at least minimum wage.

    • Zorr 2.1

      There is a serious difference between getting prisoners back in to paid employment (in various ways) to assist with reintegration in to society vs this plan of forcibly coercing them to work with no goal beyond that of “working”. For all this plan seems to care, they could be digging holes every even numbered day and filling them back in on every odd numbered day.

      • Ad 2.1.1

        And that difference is surely the staircase to freedom.

        Were my brother imprisoned, I would rather he learn to work before being released – or at least near release. What conflict is there with the Dept of Corrections Release to Work policy?

        • Tracey

          it depends on the pay and the impact on that sector outside prison

          ” , as long as the cheaper labour did not undercut the private sector outside. …”

          We have colinc crazis wanting to bring back hard labour and, imo, Nats are nodding in that direction.

          I dont know what percentage of our prison population have anger and/or substance issues and I would rather see those addressed ahead of any notion of making them pay their way.

        • weka

          Ad, why are you assuming that all prisoners don’t know how to work?

  3. Jamal 3

    You know, you have to ask serious questions about someone who thinks Left political parties should spend the last week of the election campaigning on prisoners not working. Public opinion is clear on this, and while there may be some reservations the reality is there is no gain for anyone in letting the Nats use this as a wedge issue in the last week of the campaign. Pick your battles, and for God’s sake pick your timing. This isn’t a debating tournament, it’s an election campaign. Shutting it down was the only option Labour and the Greens had.

    • One Anonymous Bloke 3.1

      In this current cowed climate shutting it down may have been the only option, and that is a sad indictment of how far public discourse has fallen, when the bullies and loudmouths rule the debate – and of course the airwaves.

      The only solution is to dismantle the apparatus piece by piece, from the corporate “values” that gag educators to the PR trash and Jonolists that profit.

  4. yeshe 4

    In the USA, American Express is just one well known company that owns a bunch of prisons. Used to be, and I assume it’s still the same, that if you rang United Airlines 1-800 for help, you were answered by a prison-run call centre. You would never know you were contributing to the exploitation of hundreds of thousands.

    This new policy suggests to me it is a stealthy move towards the further privatisation of our prisons and prisoners. Labour and Greens best beware of Key bearing gifts.

    Creating work for prisoners and assisting them to rehabilitation is excellent, but this is not what Key intends; guaranteed. It’s a prison money-maker when they only have to pay prisoners two or three dollars an hour.

  5. keith ross 5

    There is a big difference between offering work to prisoners and forcing work on them with the threat of no parole if they do not comply. The use of prison labour is common in the usa but it tends to undermine local business that can’t compete. The goal of prisons should be stopping re offending and this can best be achieved by treating the prisoners humanly and offering retraining that is actually going to get them employment or work experience out in the real world not in the obscene world of the new Zealand prison environment. This sounds like the punish them more brigade ,really no one should be able to make laws like this without spending time in one of the hell holes that are called prisons.They are not “hotels” as some people would have you believe but more akin to some kind of medieval existence. Sure some people need to spend time in prison but anything more needs to be thought about very carefully. Slave labour is not a good look for NZ.

    • Tracey 5.1

      And suporting programmes which address anger, substance abuse and those programmes with highest rates of non recidivism.

      Tge irony is with this idea in action, the work in prison, my bet is more prisoners will be employable in prison, than outside due to high unemployment and attitudes on tge outside.

      • mpledger 5.1.1

        Wonder if people will decide it’s better to be put away so they can earn some cash rather than be outside and on the dole.

        • joe90

          I doubt it.

          To provide a tangible reward for participation in employment training an “incentive allowance” is paid.
          The rates for incentive payment range from $0.00 per hour to $l.00 per hour.


          • sabine

            how much is the hourly wage on the dole, inclusive cowering and pleading with a case manager, waiting for hours for your appointment (cause the case manager are never on time), collecting the paperwork for the umpteens time cause winz lost it. paying the bus to get to winz and back home, just to be told told you are going to get a benefit of a 150 p.w and of that one pays rent/food/electricity. Well one pays one of them.

            going to prison, being fed housed and given a job that gives so a possible 40 cash in hand at the end of the week. O for Oarsome mate. What could go wrong?

    • Foreign Waka 5.2

      It may well be so but in the end, lets not forget what got them there in the first place. Shall we? I mean tell this a mother of a raped child, a elderly person whose house was burgled and the occupier bashed. Or maybe those who actually have no voice left to say anything? If you talk about the untold numbers involved in drugs and firearm convictions, don’t worry they have already raised the next generation of almost free labor that makes the honest man in the street a crook looking at these going on’s. And why wouldn’t it? No workplaces created but chain gangs are now taking the few that can be done by law abiding citizen. This has nothing to do with medieval but everything with justice. This, it seems is now a concept frowned upon. The victim is being asked to apologize to the perpetrator and hand over what is left – their livelihood by earning a living. Hell Hole Prison? Really? 3 square meals, pocket money, TV, library, etc. This is more then many hardworking people have. Then they get out and take things off where they left it. No wonder, they had it great now the real world hits the asphalt.
      And no, I would not give them paid work at all. Why rob a community of their rightful income?

      • Molly 5.2.1

        Have you ever had a look at the very low recidivism rate from places like Bastøy prison?

        They seem to have a very efficient method of reducing prison numbers – and it does not take the punitive approach many seem to favour.

        • Foreign waka

          Perhaps, but again – I am not in favor of turning statistical tables. This is an issue about justice. Justice for those who have been robbed, maimed and murdered. Punitive? Please tell this a mother, farther who have lost their child. Or a family who lost their loved one. The victims should get the funding to get heir live on track and none is being awarded. The funding is going to the perpetrator (what is wrong with the picture?) Nothing wrong with rehabilitation, but this has to come from the person at his/her will and not at the expense of the community that is left holding the baby.

  6. Weepus beard 6

    This is another step along the road to prisons for profit if what is proposed is manufacturing work which would normally go to citizens not in prison.

    Having said that I have no issue with prisoners not being paid while doing internal prison work/training with the aim of prisons being more self sufficient; horticulture, cooking, fitness training, some IT even.

    • Tracey 6.1

      Plus 1

      Given many will struggle to get work on the outside due to attitudes outside, the things you suggest make sense to me.espesh horticulture, organics, gardening, farming, IT etc…

      • Foreign Waka 6.1.1

        Yes, those poor people. Have you talked to the victims too?

        • CC

          Oh for f*cks sake Foreign Wanker, what have victims to do with this debate? However, lets consider the consequences of your nonsensical statement. How would the average victim feel about themselves, their family members or even friends being done out of jobs or having their wages cut because the same work is being done by forced 60 cents per hour prison labour.

          • Foreign waka

            You misunderstand, I don’t give any work that can be done by people in the workforce to prisoners. Far from it. My comments was cynical.
            And in fact the victims HAVE EVERYTHING TO DO WITH THIS DEBATE. These are the people left behind and having to live what is for them a tragedy. They received a live sentence with none of those funding for recovery, rehabilitation etc attached. This is a debate about JUSTICE. No funding for those who have to work through a life changing event that was not of their making.

        • Tracey

          you wanting to create more or less victims?

        • McFlock

          decent prison reform (rather than slave labour) would cut the number of tomorrow’s victims.

  7. Richies McClaw 7

    I was not surprised to see Labour support it, as in a wider context, they are more similar to National than most here would like to admit (why do you think National is doing so well? It is partly because they took all the centrist Labour voters).

    Seeing the Greens support this is another thing though, are they repositioning themselves? That would be a shame.

  8. tinfoilhat 8

    Instead of silly electioneering from NRT can anyone offer informed comment on whether the pilot of this scheme was working or not ?


    • weka 8.1

      Are you suggesting that slavery is ok so long as it works?

      • tinfoilhat 8.1.1

        No ?

        Do you have comprehension problems ?

        • weka

          No. I am curious why you want to know if the scheme works or not, when NRT’s post was about the coercion aspects of the scheme.

          • tinfoilhat

            “I am curious why you want to know if the scheme works or not, when NRT’s post was about the coercion aspects of the scheme.”

            For the mere fact that the scheme has apparently been on trial for around a year and a half, I would hope that we’re all interested in any data on the success or otherwise of the scheme and feedback both positive and negative from the inmates who have been part of the scheme.

          • lurgee

            NRT hasn’t substantiated the claim that labour will be coerced. I can’t see anyone reputable stating that parole will be denied or that prisoners will be compelled to work.

  9. Sable 9

    Shame on you Russel Norman. I would not have expected better from Cunliffe or Keys their parties are US corporate sell outs but I DO expect more from you mate.

    This is the ugly Americanization of the criminal system where big corporations profit from unpaid labour from prisoners. Its disgusting, dehumanizing and simply wrong.

    The way things are shaping up I may just stay home election day. I would not want to know I was responsible for anything so reprehensible.

  10. b waghorn 10

    Its a great idea as long as they are learning useful skills it would have to be better than starring at the walls. Might be a good way to help build cheap house’s. Could also bond some to landcorp dairy farms to help with labour shortages.

  11. b waghorn 11

    Has any one bothered to ask some prisoners??

  12. crocodill 12

    So no party in NZ wants my vote. Good for them, all working together to keep Key in his job and hate as the new love.

  13. sabine 13

    well isn’t it good that the greens will advocate for a guaranteed “40 hour work week” for prisoners.

    eventually all of us will become criminals in order to eat, be housed and have a job.

    there goes the minimum wage, the living wage and any wage.

    anyone still wonders why the youth is not voting?

    me not.

    whom to vote for

    the legalise marihuanna party? at least they have a policy that will keep people out of prison.

    • crocodill 13.1

      People will argue it is a small thing, a trifling policy point that won’t affect many… but it’s slavery, plain and simple – a return to days that were quite rightly left behind. Until the Greens publicly retract their support I will not be voting for anyone. I can make sure the kids I come across aren’t hungry, and certainly not abused by me, or while I’m around by anyone else. I don’t need barbaric sadist traitors saying they’ll spend a billion here or there to see the results of my own efforts. They might have well have said they’ll support the criminalisation of homosexuality, or reintroduce borstals for pregnant unwedded women, or that I could shoot any Maori that walked onto my property.

      • Sable 13.1.1

        You said it Crocodill and I’ll +1 it. At its core this proposition is not only slavery its RACISM. The majority of those inhabiting our prisons are Maori, they are not our servants or the unpaid servants of political bottom feeders hoping to find a cheap way to up the value of their shares in big corps using prison labour.

      • Ennui 13.1.2

        I also have a cynical viewpoint on what this is all about. Think the dole and stand down periods….based upon earnings and holiday pay….lets think you are inside for 2 years and save your meagre pay of $40 per week, you get released with around $4000 and the bastards stand you down, just watch this get perverted.

        Or perhaps you refuse to work, after all you are already inside so wtf….bad behavoir and no early parole.

        This whole thing stinks of punitive populism: i cannot express enough my total disgust at National and their supporters.

  14. Bill 14

    Voluntary opportunity to work at market rates in scenarios that do not undercut or compete with already existing businesses. Opportunity to train/retrain or take up apprenticeship training. Opportunity to undertake full time or part time study. The right to vote. Proper and fully funded detox units in prisons.

    I could go on…

    • McFlock 14.1

      please do 🙂

    • Tracey 14.2

      lplease do Bill…

      Simon power, imo, had a genuine desire to reform prisons and the way we create more prisoners. Crusher crushed him, imo.

      One day some politicians will have the courage to implement the kind of reforms that have some basis for success instead of chasing stuff proven to fail.

      Problem with prisoners working in productive money generating work is that we dont have full employment, so which industries?

      Clearing cars and dumped stuff out of lakes, rivers, waterways makes sense…

      • sabine 14.2.1

        Clearing cars and dumped stuff out of lakes, rivers, waterways makes sense

        this should be offered at a living wage to people that are not working currently, have yet to offend and are depended on winz generosity.

        having prisoners maintain their prisons, i.e clean, paint, fix the buildings/chattels, grow their own food – plants and meat, have them man their switch boards etc makes sense and would provide them with good skills.

        force them to work for nought to nothing is surely not going to improve moral,

        so sick of this, shame on the greens really.
        I would have expected this from the conservatices/act/national and national light aka labour, but not the greens.

  15. Potato 15

    National has promised to get more people into fulltime work. First time they’ve told us where!

  16. as someone who has done time..

    ..and has thus experienced the interior of paremoremo/mt eden/prison farm..

    ..i can tell you that i wd rather leave the confines of the jail/cell..and go and do meaningful work..as i did..

    ..rather than sit and rot in a jail..

    ..and if national deserve any kudos..it is for having increased the opportunities for prisoners to get education etc..

    ..(labour were lamentable at that..and ran with that lock-em-up! ethos..mainlining the sensible-sentencing trust..)

    ..and i guess tolley is the one to get that credit..she seems to have driven this change..

    ..’cos the fact is that a lot of the people i was inside with..

    ..were functionally illiterate..

    ..so..if that work for prisoners was not just assembling plastic-pegs..(paremoremo..)

    ..but something more relevant..(i include i.t-training..why not..?..)

    ..and especially if it was providing training that cd mean jobs upon release..

    ..i wd support that happening..especially when the alternative is 20 hrs a day in a cell..

    ..and i don’t think it unreasonable for them to be paid a wage of some sorts..(with maybe half of it hived off into an account..to be available upon release..

    ..(that wd seem to make sense..)

    ..’cos all you want is the time to go as fast as possible..

    ..and working helps with that..

    • joe90 16.1

      assembling plastic-pegs..

      If you showed any initiative a promotion to weighing and bagging figs was on the cards.

      • phillip ure 16.1.1


        ..not in my day..

        ..boy..!..you had it easy..!

        ..we wd dream of being able to weigh/bag figs..

        ..anything to get away from that pink plastic..

    • ..i can tell you that i wd rather leave the confines of the jail/cell..and go and do meaningful work..as i did..

      Never been inside, but even lacking that experience this strikes me as a well-duh. Before quacking on about slave labour, maybe it would pay to find out what the people actually involved might make of it?

      As an aside, the idea that people who’ve offended against their society should be put to some useful labour instead of being chucked in a cell to rot strikes me as very much a socialist concept – looking on it as ‘slave labour’ is something for hippies, not leftists.

      • crocodill 16.2.1

        The argument is not whether prisoners will get “something to do” while inside. It never was. The argument is two-fold:

        One, that the Greens and Labour are asking the electorate to throw themselves on the mercy and benevolence of the National Party machine post election. Ha. They think this is a good idea and that the National Party have proven themselves a good risk.

        Two, that National will not use prison labour in the most destructive way possible to both job/wages outside, and to the prisoners themselves and their families.

        It’s that simple. If the Greens say they agree “in principle” then they have lost my vote because their mind-set is not of the Left, or even vaguely reaching toward something that is morally correct.

        Asking people whether they would accept being slaves is a stupid argument. What you except us to believe is that there are no extenuating circumstances that influence a person to say “yes” to voluntary enslavement. This isn’t like voluntary student union membership. God almighty.

        There is a lot of wishful thinking involved with those supporting ill-treatment of prisoners, and also I suspect a lot of projection issues. If the Greens went ahead with their poverty reduction plans and successfully dissolved the “untermensch”, who would people blame for their loss of soul, self-interest and the results of greediness? Quite the conundrum. People would have to start looking at themselves, taking responsibility for their beliefs, and then our entire economic system and values would breakdown and fail.

        Not surprisingly it has caused a cognitive dissonance moment for many. Without the Greens or Labour, the election is lost to National. Without them, there is no hope of authority absolving them of their real day-to-day personal responsibility to act and change. They “have no choice” but to believe the impossible. But then, perhaps the election and hope in a greater authority was always lost, because why else would the Left parliamentary politics abandon the people so eagerly?

  17. b waghorn 17

    @Phillip ure i bet there is a whole lot of people trying to remember how much stick they’ve given you on this site now.:-)

  18. Please note that the Greens have made their position clear, and I have corrected my original post to reflect it.

    [post updated to reflect your changes to the original. Can’t seem to get into edit the front page summary though. Sorry.And then I could.] – B.

  19. Distilled essence of NZ 19

    The Greens have essentially said they are opposed to this. There is no way you can employ all the thousands of inmates within prisons without it effecting jobs in the private sector.

    Also, most of the “gangsta” inmates (probably about 50% of prison population) will not be forced to work for free. They will just opt to do their whole sentence, and they will have no incentive to not be violent while they’re inside, because they will have no possibility of parole. End result – prisons become more violent. Also, only minimum security prisoners (probably only about 10% of prisoners) are cleared to do release to work “outside the wire”, because of the security/escape/drug importation risks. If medium, high and maximum security prisoners are suddenly allowed to work outside the wire, all those problems will increase in scale.

    This policy just looks like a nightmare in the making. It also looks like it’s been made up by people who know nothing about prisons.

    • Sable 19.1

      They are people who “know everything” about greed. This is simple copycat-ing of the US with the same end in mind. Buy lots of shares in big business and then let said corporations use free prison labour to up said shares value.

      It gives you some insight into the morality of the head lice we have representing us. Really just gangsters in expensive suits.

    • Sable 19.2

      It would be good to hear the Greens categorically say its “morally reprehensible”. I’m less surprised at Labour but still disgusted at what used to be a party of the people.

      • sabine 19.2.1

        Labour is national light…..i expect nothing more than a few band aids to garner votes, i.e. lets build a few houses and throw a bit of lunch at the hungry.

        the one that really upsets/disgust and surprises me are the greens.
        i have read their statement form 2013 and basically they say yes lets go and do it, hopefully it prevents re-offending.

        nothing about offering comprehensive treatment/detox to substance abusers to keep them out of prison.
        nothing about free study for young and old to keep them upskilled and out of prison
        nothing about skill centres in high unemployment areas to get people involved and learning a trade
        nothing about a comprehensive reform of our drug policies to keep people out of prison
        nothing about a comprehensive reform of our Welfare Mis-state to keep people out of prison

        nothing, but shoddy paid and coerced labour from prisoners. Yei.

        question: Can we do away with home detention and start throwing the white collar criminals into prison for some hard labour…John Banks comes to mind. Mark Hotchin would be a good contender.

        but that aint happening. Gosh…. I have run out of options. I am at the point where I say, bring on National for another three years. Let them implement all these policies, maybe when enough of the country are dirt poor and hungry will a bit of humanity come back.

        Seriously Greens…..Prison Labour? WTF?

  20. Lloyd 20

    If a prisoner is working they should get minimum wage. If they can’t be given all that money because it may distort the prison environment, it should be placed in a trust fund so that they can access it on release, to tide them over until they hopefully get a job.

  21. Ennui 21

    We slavishly follow most things “American”, like TV vampire shows, the local pale copies of American “game” shows etc. Now its time for prison follow me….

    Did you know that:
    * the total imprisoned population in the USA exceeds the “Gulag” at the height of that system.
    * forced labour is everyday in US prisons, a very large proportion of which are owned by private corporates….making money from misery.
    * if you are a black male you have a 10% plus chance of serving time during your lifetime.

    So here we are in little Ol NZ going down the same path.

  22. sabine 22

    Up to 1400 inmates will be working 40 hours a week – without pay – by the end of this year as part of a plan to create more “working prisons” in New Zealand….

    this from an article in 2013


    cause well they don’t get paid!!!!!

    and the wee statement from the Greens does not absolve them.

    they can/should put a statement out that under no circumstances will they support slave labour.

    and work without pay, without the option to say no without fear of repercussions that can only be called Slavery.

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