Max Nash/PA Wire/Press Association Images
Kenneth Clarke's plan to get prisoners working and help prepare them for a return to normal life has seen a new first: prisoners will be manning the phones at a renewable energy call centre in return for £15 a day.
But is this sensible rehabilitation, or an attack on jobs?
Better for prisoners?
Becoming Green, a renewable energy company selling things like solar panels and home insulation, has taken on 23 people from HMP Prescoed to work in its call centre.
In a statement, Becoming Green said: "Corporations should have a social responsibility to help society. If they work with this attitude and behaviour it will help make a better society for all."
The prisoners will be offered 'work experience' in the call centre in order to improve their CVs and give them useful skills to help them turn their lives around on release. They will be driven from the prison to the office, and will be answering phone calls from people responding to adverts.
In return, 12 of them will receive money to cover their meals - which works out at £15 a day. They can pay this rate for 40 days while the individuals compete work experience. Once the work experience period is over, if they are taken on, they will receive the minimum wage. Of this they will keep 60%, and the other 40% will go into a fund to compensate victims.
The prisoners in question are on day-release - which is already a commonplace approach to allow prisoners to gain work experience before full release. Prisoners are assessed before taking part in this type of scheme and will have been ruled unlikely to abscond or re-offend.
There are arguments that this is a useful step for the prisoners. However, Prisoners' Families
Voices, a blog which seeks to represent the views of prisoners, said: "5 hours work wouldn't even buy them a pint of milk and a loaf of bread. Modern day slavery at its best! "
What about the workers?
Union bosses are concerned about the workforce too. They are worried that offering employers cut-price prisoners for the workplace could encourage them to favour inmates over fully-paid employees. Unite told the BBC
it was "going back to slave labour".
Yet it's worth considering whether this criticism is completely fair. The company is currently recruiting and expanding around the country, and looking for a variety of full-time employees, and is confident that no full time staff lost their position for these inmates to take roles on. Since the scheme started, they have take on 90 employees - fewer than a third of which were inmates.
At the same time, there are plenty of businesses offering work experience with no pay, and for those inmates taken on long-term, pay reverts to the minimum wage. By comparison, this scheme seems generous.
But what do you think? let us know in the comments.
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