Having plundered the third world with impunity for so long, first-world capitalism has now turned its attention to the incarcerated working class in its own prisons, potentially a rich source of exploitable labour. Prisoners are paid around 30 pence per hour, but even these pitifully small wages are seen as fair game by capitalism.
The big talk from government ministers at the moment is to train prisoners in a relevant job opportunity, to give them better prospects on release. Mmmmmmm sounds good doesn’t it? As one prison guard that wrote to us said “The only problem is the Prison Service are more interested in churrrrrrrrning out bed upon bed, making more profits for companies like Airsprung and to hell with prisoners. Most staff have read your articles and support what you say, they are disgusted that the Prison Service seem hell bent on using PRISONERS FOR PROFIT TO PRIVATE INDUSTRY” and that “They are offered false hope and are worked like dogs”. Any pretense at rehabilitating prisoners and empowering them with trade skills has been abandoned.
If you write to one of these companies about the issue you will get an answer like this received from Trew Gates Ltd (who stopped using prison labour last year), “We as a company were proud to be involved in a program of training and helping rehabilitate prisoners to enable them to learn a trade for their re-introduction into society. Many men and women involved in the manufacture of these gates stated that they were happy to be part of the program and it helped to make their sentence pass by easier”. While we don’t deny that something to pass the time and get you out of your cell might be welcomed, this is low skilled work and is of no benefit to the rehabilitation of the actual individual, instead this replaces education and skill learning which have been drastically cut. These companies try to justify themselves by saying that it is good training and will help prisoners to get a job after release, but all they are interested in is profit, simple as that. The money saved is not reflected in the goods Airsprung or Wilkinson sell to the general public. If big companies like Wilkinson and Airsprung offered a reasonable rate, like say the minimum wage, then you would not see them for dust.
The Prison Service price each product using a formula which has not changed for over 10 years, they work between a break even price and a target price. The sales people very rarely reach the target selling price and usually settle for break even which just covers the cost of materials. There are also a number of instances where the Prison service buy work!! This is a situation where the company is offered a price below break even, if they can provide long term consistent work. This is exploitation at its very worst with the only benefit going to the company. Wickes Building Supplies used the Scottish Prison Service to manufacture gates. The price was squeezed so low that SPS did not even recover the material cost, they lost about £2 per item and must have lost thousands upon thousands over the 5 year period SPS did work for them. These loses of course being made up by the tax payer. As you can appreciate this is very attractive to potential customers as it ultimately means bigger profits for them.
The Scottish Prison Service also make garden furniture goods, held at their Faulhouse Depot in West Lothian, which is then sold onto to local sharks, who in turn sell it onto the public for at least double the price. As we heard “There are more fiddles going on than the London Philharmonic. These guys are raking in a fortune. Most of this stuff is touted by the SPS sales manager Anthony Apperley. This is the guy responsible for getting the guys to slave away for 30p per hour while the greedy companies get the rewards. I bet he is on a back-hander with some of these people giving them low prices as he has a high lifestyle”.
Here’s what the prisoners themselves had to say, “I was made to pack cards into plastic slips but found this hard as have Attention Deficit Disorder. Because I could not keep up I ended up on basic regime, 23 hours a day bang up, 1/2 hour visits, £2.50 canteen a week, no association”……..”I laid fabric for Wilkinson ironing boards but at the time had a medical issue so would loose a days wage each week as I had to see the doctor. Plus I would get docked if I could not complete an order. I was 300 miles away from home so had to do this work to phone my family”………………. “At HMP Lindholme I saw inmates use the toilet and not wash their hands packing mushrooms, spit on them, put boggies on them, kick them about, put flies in the pack then seal them. Also the onions were kept in moldy conditions then wiped and sealed. I wrote to Asda but got no reply. The mushrooms packed for Asda I would not eat them as health and safety in prisons is not an issue”…………” I have packed food for Asda, parts for Land Rover, packed welcome packs for hotels, nuts and bolts for DIY stores, plus have been punished for not working”……..”I packed cards and put screws in shock kits. We are meant to be getting rehabilitated but we are used like slaves for pittance then we have to shop at Aramark to buy our stuff at over marked prices”.
Aramark are yet another US import grown fat on the misery of incarceration. Over the past few years it has become ubiquitous, running prison canteens up and down the country. Everything has to be purchased from the prison canteen, this monopoly is another attractive proposition for the ever-greedy forces of capitalism. Though sometimes the “needs” created are false ones, in many prisons it is even necessary for prisoners to buy their own toilet cleaner, and they increasingly have to feed themselves.
What You Can Do
Contact your local MP and demand information under the Freedom of Information Act, an Act to make provision for the disclosure of information held by public authorities or by persons providing services for them. Potential questions people should ask are:
1. I would like to see a copy of the formula used to calculate how a product is costed, how is this formula arrived at giving a breakdown of materials and labour? I would like to know why this costing has not significantly changed over the past decade.
2. I would like to see details of how prisoners wages are calculated.
3. I would like to see all information on the Prison Service customer data base detailing all the products costs which are sold onto to private companies, so comparisons can be made against what these private customers sell onto the consumer FOR BIG PROFITS.
4. Why tax payers money was used to subsidize Wickes profits over the past 5 year? Under the Freedom of Information act the Scottish Prison Service must provide figures for this.
5. How many hours are the prisoners spending in the workshops? Are people are having to work in order to get access to education or being punished for not working?
6. Ask about the profits Aramark and other prison canteen suppliers are making.
What will happen is the local MP will write to the Prison Service asking questions on behalf of their members, the Prison Service will have to respond (reluctantly). The general public have a right to know where tax payers money is being spent. Of course the other alternative is to run a campaign alongside pushing for a minimum wage for prisoners, we know it would never happen, but if it ever did you would not see these greedy companies for long.
Find your constituency and your MP at http://www.locata.co.uk/commons
Contact the National Audit Office to ask for a full audit into the way tax payers money is being spent unwisely.
National Audit Office
Freedom of Information Team
157-197 Buckingham Palace Road
Write to the English Prison Service or locate the addresses of prisons in England and Wales at http://www.hmprisonservice.gov.uk
Write to the Scottish Prison Service or locate the addresses of prisons in Scotland at http://www.sps.gov.uk
Contact the Prison Management direct at Tony Simpson, Head of Prison Industries, 5 Redheughs Rigg, Calton House, Edinburgh. EH12 9HW or Paula Arnold, Deputy Head of Prison Industries at the same address or at firstname.lastname@example.org
Look at the “Corporate Watch DIY Guide to How to research companies” which can be found at http://www.corporatewatch.org.uk
Contact some of the companies using prison labour:
– Airsprung Beds. Canal Road, Trowbridge, Wiltshire, BA14 8RQ email@example.com
Airsprung beds supply Argos with beds made by the Scottish Prison Service. The SPS get £3 per bed, Argos sell them for upwards of £100. Argos is Airsprung’s main customer regarding prison made beds.
– Bison Safety Systems. Unit 3, Calendar Business Park, Falkirk, FK1 1XR. SPS manufacture safety equipment for them.
– KDM International. 18 The Havens, Ransomes Business Park, Ipswich, Suffolk, IP3 95J. They are starting to sell a lot of garden items and are getting a special deal because they buy so many of them.
– Peter Smith Garden Furniture. Dick Lane, Bradford, West Yorkshire, BD4 8JD. Same as KDM.
– Lomax Mobility – Dundee. They buy bags and other small items.
– Other companies mentioned like Wilkinson, ASDA, Virgin, Sainsbury, Wickes.
Contact Campaign Against Prison Slavery, PO Box 74, Brighton, East Sussex. BN1 4ZQ
Disclaimer: This is all information and ideas sent to us by third parties.