CALIFORNIA PRISON INDUSTRIES IN TROUBLE
It has long been an established business practice of any government, whether it be national or, as in the case of the U.S.A., state level, to exploit the resources that they control to offset their overheads. And those resources obviously also include their prison population. In California that process appears to be faltering if the latest figures from Calpia, the California Prison Industry Authority, are to be believed.
Since 1983, California's prisoner work program has become the largest in the U.S., with 5,000 prisoners in 57 state-run prisons (California has no privately-run prisons) earning between 23p-63p an hour doing everything from making dentures and office furniture to roasting coffee, recycling toner cartridges and cutting meat.
However, this particular valuable commodity is beginning to get thin on the ground because of a 2011 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court decision that California's prisons had caused "needless suffering and death" and that it had to cut its prison population (then running at 75% over capacity) by more than 30,000 in two years to repair a health care system that lower courts had previously found was defying constitutional standards and endangering guards and inmates alike, the latest in a long line of cases brought to court by Californian prisoners themselves.
The State legislature's response was initially to ship prisoners into County i.e. local non-State jails or out of state privately-run prisons. This may have begun to alleviate the overcrowding problem to an extent but it had one major unforeseen effect on Calpia, the lack of short-term prisoners (just the sort chosen to ship out of State-run prisons) to carry out things like stitching trainers or manufacturing spectacles. Hence the closure of 2 spectacles factories and a 45% drop in trainers orders, and the wider 18% drop in revenue over the past 5 years.
The end result is that the industries programme last year ended up $8.8m (£5.8m) in the red and, for an organisation that must by law be self-sufficient and that can only sell its products to other government bodies, things do not look too rosy for Calpia. [17/05/13]
SPS INDUSTRIES FACING A 'NEW BROOM'
Following on from our recent story on changes at the Scottish Prison Service headquarters, it appears that uniform procurement is not the only sector of their operations showing the distinct influence of the new infusion of fresh blood from south of the border. The widely derided Industries Department at the Fauldhouse Central Stores [apparently seen as an "embarrassment" by management] is about to be given the new broom treatment. The new Chief Executive, Colin McConnell, has picked up on Industries' long-running decline in profitability  and decided to try and use the 131 Solutions model introduced by Ken Clarke before he fell by the wayside.
The current plan appears to be to 'privatise' half of the current SPS workshop space, allowing companies to set up and equip workshops, and to provide the cheap labour which the firms in question will then train-up to carry out their work, thus providing the companies with a reliable source of cheap labour and the SPS with a regular income, much as happened in the past with Airsprung Beds and as currently happens with Speedy Hire (both at Glenochil).
The first prison to get this treatment will be the as yet unopened new HMP Grampian and SPS HQ are apparently in discussion with Score UK, a valve and gas turbine company based at Peterhead and that has grown out of the North Sea offshore Oil and Gas Industry. It will be interesting to see how the scheme develops and if has more success than the damp squib 131 Solutions currently appears to be. [14/05/13]
LANDMARK PRISON LABOUR DECISION IN FRANCE
In what is seen by many as a significant court decision about the treatment of prisoners employed by private companies, Marilyn Moureau, a French prisoner who had been employed telephoning customer on behalf of Societal MKT, a call centre outsourcing company created especially to exploit female prison labour, and had been downgraded, 'déclassée' (declassified) from doing this type because she had used company time and equipment to phone her sister, has been found to have been unfairly dismissed.
Article 717-3 of the French Criminal Procedure Code states that: "The working relationship of prisoners are not subject to an employment contract." According to the Prison Act 2009, inmates sign a "contract of employment" with the prison administration, which in turn grants concessions to private companies. These rules therefore derogate the common law surrounding employment entitlement in much the same way as in Britain, except that French law also provides for an hourly rate for prison work of between 20% and 45% of the statutory minimum wage (€4-6 per hour).
However, Ms Moureau's lawyer argued that despite the lack of an employment contract between the prisoner and the company she was working for, she was effectively an employee of that company and still entitled to the sort of protection under law afforded to 'ordinary' employees, something that the court agreed with, awarding a compensation package with elements for lack of notice, paid holiday entitlement, back pay and failure to comply with fair dismissal procedures plus damages of €3000. Unfortunately, Societal MKT (a subsidiary of call-centre 'offshoring' company MKT Conseil, which had previously used prisoners in countries such as Tunisia) had since gone bankrupt and the monies are ultimately to come out of a public wage guarantee scheme. [10/02/13]
The following is a letter that appeared in the February 2013 edition of the Inside Time:
I would like to bring to your attention the scandalous behaviour of some management and staff at HMP Wolds who, in my opinion, are in fact criminals and rip-off merchants. This letter is on behalf of all the slaves in the prison workshop who have stripped copper wire for the 2 months before Christmas on the understanding that the money raised would be for our Christmas bonus from the company the prison hires us to, Bonus Electrics, Hull. Obviously the lads have grafted hard as some of them do not have family or friends to support them and the extra money would have come in handy. We stripped 95 kilos of wire and were told that it was sold for £4 a kilo, which would have made £398 or thereabouts, which would have been a nice return on our work. But we were then informed that Bonus Electrics were going to take 50% of this money for themselves, which still left around £200 to be shared amongst us prisoners who did the actual work, about £10 each. Now the Director of HMP Wolds has informed us that we are getting none of the money. We feel that we have been deceived by this private prison and a private company as there is no way we would have spent hours stripping this wire with teeth, hands and blunt Stanley knives as it is not in our job description. We have spoken to the IMB about this matter but they say there is not a lot they can do. The lads would rather have this money go to a chosen charity rather than it end up paying the bar tab for the staff Christmas party.
David Johnson – HMP Wolds
SLAVE LABOUR DOWN UNDER
If we thought the constant round of revisions to the so-called Rehabilitation Revolution (RR) was making us all dizzy, then we should spare a thought for the plight of prisoners in New Zealand where they are introducing their own version of RR. One of the cornerstones of the Coalition's RR, and the element that received the biggest PR push, was the planned introduction of a full working week across the prison system to ensure prisons "become places of hard work and industry" in the words of Ken Clarke. He even had an expensive makeover of the Prison Industries department, renaming it rather grandiosely ONE3ONE Solutions, in order to try and entice new companies into using prison workshop labour. Alongside this, the inevitable debate about the contentious issue of prisoners' wages rates, with the idea of a Prison Minimum Wage (as opposed to the National Minimum Wage) being floated, and the possibility of any new wage rate undercutting outside workers' pay.
Well, in New Zealand they appear to have decided that they will go about it in a slightly different manner. Taking the model of Christchurch's Rolleston prison, where prisoners have been put to work refurbishing houses damaged in the 2011 earthquake, the National party government has decided to roll out a 40 hour week across all of Rolleston's prisoners, as well as two of their other prisons - Rangipo and Auckland Women's prison. Except, unlike those working on earthquake-damaged properties, these prisoners will not only be working a 40-hour week, but they will be doing so for NO pay at all. And whilst this sidesteps the sticky problem of the setting of fair pay rates for prisoners, it totally ignores the problem of 'out-competing' outside businesses. Expect some form of backlash from the business world (or at least the sections that are unable to get a slice of this new pool of slave labour. [31/01/13]
The basic pay rates for prisoners in England and Wales have not seen an increase since the Incentives and Earned Privileges Scheme was introduced in 1995 (although local pay rates for a select number of jobs have risen and private sector prisons tend to pay more for equivalent jobs). In fact some governors have introduced pay cuts on the back of the Coalition cuts to the Prison Service budget. In New York's prisons things are even worse: they haven't had a pay rise since 1993. And their pay rates are even works than over here: between 10 cents and $1.14 an hour (6p and 72p). [25/01/13]
IKEA AND PRISON LABOUR
So IKEA have finally been forced to admit that they used forced labour in East German Stasi-run prisons, something that the company has consistently denied since the issue was first raised in 1982, and despite all the evidence to the contrary. In fact it is now apparent that the company 'knew' that this was the case as early as 1978, yet they continued to source furniture from the German Democratic Republic with the only thing apparently bringing an end to the practice being the fall of the Berlin Wall and hence the loss of the manufacturing base. And, to make matters worse, the Swedish flat-pack giant even came close to sourcing products made by Cuban political prisoners when their GDR contacts tried to outsource production to the Caribbean island's communist regime (the only thing stopping them it seem was the lower quality of the product).
Here at CAPS a number of issues surrounding the apparent outrage surrounding this story stick out like a sore thumb, not least the blatant hypocrisy of the apparent indignation expressed. Take the massive Laogai prison labour network in China for example. Many of us are more than happy to use resources and products coming from the Laogai front companies, whose factories and mines produce everything from the cheap tools and a myriad of other items that are found in high street 'pound shops' and DIY stores across the UK, all the way up to the Rare Earth metals essential to the latest high tech must-have mobile phone, laptop and games console central to our Western consumer lifestyles. Where are the complaints about the use of political prisoners' labour there?
Added to that there is the argument as to exactly what constitutes a political prisoner and whether the police and legislature in so-called enlightened liberal democracies are any less culpable of criminalising and exploiting the imprisoned labour of it's political opponents, whether they be animal rights activists or climate protestors whose passionate objection to currently legal practices are either made illegal overnight by some new law or are suddenly deemed to be so under new interpretations of older laws simply because they have interfered in the ability of someone currently with sufficient political/financial/social clout to produce money, often via a means that at some point in the future will be deemed to be politically, financially or socially unacceptable.
These arguments are of course put forward in addition to the fundamental position of the Campaign, namely that all conditional prison labour, whether it be paid or not, amounts to a form of slavery/indentured labour irrespective of the legal basis governing the imposition of that labour [e.g. Article 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights, Article 4 of the UK Human Rights Act 1998 or Article 2 of the International Labour Organisation's Forced Labour Convention No. 29]. [19/11/12]