A bizarre editorial

February 1st, 2013 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald editorial is rather bizarre. The headline is:

Work in jail scheme will do more harm than good

Now that is a very definitive statement. It is not saying there are complications, or it *may* do more harm than good. It is a definitive statement that it will definitely do more harm than good.

Yet I read the entire editorial, and they don’t actually produce anything to back up the assertion. They talk about the complications and the extra costs that may be incurred, but that is again vastly different from stating outright that having additional working will do more harm than good.

Now let us look at what the Herald says is so awful:

Ms Tolley has conceded the plan will require “significant infrastructure upgrades”.

Presumably she is referring to the workplace equipment that will need to be installed in prisons. The costs do not, however, end there. There is the expense involved in work training and tuition for the inmates.

Oh my God. We will spend money on training and tuition for prisoners. How awful.

I’m skeptical of many types of government spending.  There’s a lot of programmes I would personally cut, to allow a reduction in taxes. But you know I don’t have a huge problem with training and tuition for prisoners.

Already, however, the British Prison Officers Association has complained that this is exploitative of prisoners and risks damaging the wider economy. “We have concerns about simply using prisoners as cheap labour for companies to cut their costs,” it has said. That cutting means, inevitably, that in some cases prisoners are taking the jobs of people in the community.

That is a potential concern, but we already have some work being done. The challenge is making sure the work done has minimal impact on other jobs. But again the editorial provides no substance to back up their assertion the expansion of work in prisons will “do more harm than good”.

Additionally, there is the risk that an increasing emphasis on getting inmates into work will lessen that on education, employment training and drug and alcohol addiction treatment programmes. This rehabilitation work was, commendably, at the forefront of Government policy announced last year.

Quite the contrary. The plan is part of that programme, as in fact the editorial them acknowledges:

A key part of this programme is providing greater support for prisoners to find jobs when they are released. Theoretically, that process should be aided by the Government’s work initiative.

So again we have an entire editorial that is at odds with the assertion in its title. It is bizarre.

They say:

Admirable idea falls down on numerous practicalities.

Yet they have not documented these. All they have done is say hey it may cost some money (no shit Sherlock), and you need to be careful of the impact on the labour market.

I never thought we’d see a newspaper argue against money being spent on giving prisoners training and tuition so they are more likely to gain employment when released.

18 Responses to “A bizarre editorial”

  1. dime (13,132 comments) says:

    ive been waiting for the nz screw union to complain.. looks like the brits are doing it for them.

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  2. Fletch (9,143 comments) says:

    Didn’t prisoners used to always have to work?

    They do do some work here in NZ, but according to the Corrections site it is voluntary.

    What work do prisoners do?

    Over 4,700 prisoners participate in employment or industry training.

    Prisoners who undertake employment and training do so on a voluntary basis and are generally enthusiastic about being provided with the opportunity and responsibility of learning new skills.

    Prisoners are trained in a number of industries including farming, nurseries, organics, forestry, timber processing, furniture making, textiles, catering, engineering, concrete product manufacturing, printing and laundries. Training occurs through a variety of methods including business-like industries, industry training, work parties and unit-based activities within the prison (see descriptions below). In most employment activities, prisoners are trained by qualified instructors to NZQF standards. Eligible prisoners have the opportunity to participate in Release to Work (see description below).


    In the U.S they used to have them cracking rocks, and in many States they still make license plates for cars.
    Shouldn’t they be doing some kind of work?

    Otherwise, what do they do, just sit around all day?

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  3. JC (1,105 comments) says:

    “Over 4,700 prisoners participate in employment or industry training.”

    Ie, over 50% of convicted crims. Here’s the first four UN minimum standards for prisoner employment.. note No 2:

    71. (1) Prison labour must not be of an afflictive nature.

    (2) All prisoners under sentence shall be required to work, subject to their physical and mental fitness as determined by the medical officer.

    (3) Sufficient work of a useful nature shall be provided to keep prisoners actively employed for a normal working day.

    (4) So far as possible the work provided shall be such as will maintain or increase the prisoners, ability to earn an honest living after release.


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  4. Ross12 (2,570 comments) says:

    I did not realise The Herald was now owned by Fairfax. /sarc

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  5. Weihana (5,393 comments) says:


    The challenge is making sure the work done has minimal impact on other jobs.

    I disagree. The purpose of prisons is to keep prisoners away from the public, to rehabilitate where possible and to make society safer in the long run. It isn’t a jobs scheme and I would argue the need to make society safer from crime outweighs any concern over someone’s job. Rehabilitative work should be focused on getting prisoners back into normal jobs as a pathway to integration into normal society. This will inevitably lead to competition with regular society. The real concern is that such a scheme will by used merely as a punitive measure with limited rehabilitative potential.

    Prisoners should also be paid for their work (albeit at a low rate to compensate for their imprisonment). Payment should go into a fund for their release and part of it should be given to them as credits in prison. Reward for work is the best way to teach a person the value of work and the best way for a person to appreciate that reward is for it to materialize before them in a tangible way.

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  6. Peter (2,138 comments) says:

    I think it’s bizarre inmates don’t work.

    This is a significant opportunity to better the lives of prisoners, help pay their way, and help condition them for a return to society. We’re not short of work that needs to be done, so I think the “taking jobs” argument is pretty weak.

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  7. backster (2,533 comments) says:

    A good rehabilitative scheme has been proved in Arizona. A team of prisoners wearing distinctive uniforms are linked by chains and paraded through the streets removing rubbish and graffiti,and road mess caused by crashes. It doesn’t cost much to administer and little training is involved, but lessons are learnt.

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  8. peterwn (4,337 comments) says:

    Fletch – there used to be a quarry next to Mt Eden jail where prisoners broke rocks but that ended 60-70 years ago. In Phoenix area (Arizona – Maricopa county – pop similar to NZ) Sheriff Joe Arpaio has installed pedal TV’s so prisoners have to work for their TV.

    The Herald editorial should have been by-lined ‘EPMU shop steward’.

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  9. flipper (5,339 comments) says:

    Listen, you dumb lot……

    It is NOT the inmates.

    They know they are there (in prison) for crimes they have acknowledged or been found guilty thereof……well apart from one or two notable exceptions, on which no further comment in this thread.

    There are two problems here:

    1. The prison officers union which wants risible hours of work, rates of pay, and other bennies, for a job no more dangerous than teaching school..

    2. Their intractable position has stifled action on work in prison for more than 25 years (Tolley has been snowed DPF because she has insular advice, so have you DPF!)

    3. The present head of Corrections, Ray Smith failed at WINZ and he failed at CYPS. So the dinosaur SSC said: “Lordy…let’s appoint him to Corrections. He will introduce a real work policy”. And Tolley, absent independent advice, bought it. As Tui would say: Yeah, right.

    David, you and others need re-education.
    Go back to W S Churchill, or for a more recent figure, try Judge (aka Sir)Anand Satayanand. No? I thought not.
    So the proposed programme will splutter on, cough and splutter to a stop, and then be re-invented, by some dumb fool at some time in the future.

    In the meantime the only beneficiaries will be the legal/judicial industrial complex……. and of couyrse, the ;ollies.
    The victims? Taxpayers.

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  10. David Garrett (11,134 comments) says:

    This has to be a good initiative. Most prisoners will eventually be released, and the more skills they have the less chance there is of them ending up back inside. That is good for everyone.

    JC: What exactly are those UN protocols you quote from? I was always told that one of the reasons more prisoners werent working was that “UN conventions” we had signed meant it couldn’t be compulsory. Clearly I was misinformed.

    Backster: Unfortunately, much as we would all like it to be otherwise, the recidivism among former inmates of jails in Maricopa county is no better than elsewhere in the State. That doesn’t mean that Sheriff Joe’s methods are not worth copying (prisons cost significantly less to build and run in Arizona than here) but we shouldn’t see chain gangs or tent jails as the answer to recidivism.

    I remember going out with the chain gangs (the members are there voluntarily; they like getting out of the hot boring jail) and talking to the guards, one of whom carried a pump action shotgun. I asked him if he had ever had to use it..his laconic answer – in a dry southern drawl – was classic: “Ah had to to cock it once…” Anyone who has ever heard a pump action being cocked knows there is no sound like it.

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  11. Andrew (31 comments) says:

    an editorial the posters at the sub-standard would be proud of.

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  12. barry (1,234 comments) says:

    Oh – come on DPF – this the Herald you are talking about.

    They are possibly the lowest value for money rag in the country and they are going towards the shock/horror segment of the market.

    I once saw a story in the National Enquirer in the US. The headline was “World War II planes found on far side of moon”

    I expect to see something similar in the Herald any time soon.

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  13. hamnidaV2 (247 comments) says:

    While I think Tolley’s proposals are far from perfect, surely the scheme will do more good than harm.

    Benefits: Active prisoners, contributing to society, gaining new skills and experience, preparation for the outside World, earning a little money.

    Negatives: Interferes with wider-labour market, minimum wage not paid, slight risk around the interface between extra freedoms and prison security.

    Despite being a Tory, some of Tolley’s reforms have been quite good – banning smoking in prisons and literacy programmes are two of the more successful ideas. Expensive PPPs is her only failure I can think of.

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  14. JC (1,105 comments) says:

    David G,


    The URL you asked for.


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  15. duggledog (2,394 comments) says:

    Quite a few people go to prison because they think they can steal from other people, do aggravated robberies etc to get what they want because they are essentially lazy.

    If prisons become places where they are forced to work, I believe some, possibly quite a lot might not repeat their ‘mistakes’.

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  16. hinamanu (1,446 comments) says:

    Bootcamp teens need access to certificates and diplomas to give them confidence to go onto higher education and better them selves. It’s called preventative education but the govt, consultants and experts have no idea what a college pupil would understand.

    This goes for the business sector as well. They have no understanding or enlightenment of how to benefit the consumer and encouragement to them. Just rape, rape rape pockets

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  17. Johnboy (21,104 comments) says:

    ” Anyone who has ever heard a pump action being cocked knows there is no sound like it.”

    Tried one on Whitetail on Stewart Island once. Went back to a rifle. Deer are obviously at least as smart as crim’s! 🙂

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  18. WineOh (1,116 comments) says:

    I’m actually not a fan of the compulsion factor for inmate work schemes, as it comes too close to indentured servitude or borderline slavery.

    I’d prefer a voluntary scheme. The work should be something that provides some value for society but generally stuff that it’s not cost effective to actually pay someone minimum wage+ for. EG- Clearing gorse or other noxious weeds, graffiti removal, rubbish collection, tree planting, basic property maintenance for community groups – perhaps the local hospice needs their fence fixed or painted or DOC needing some manhours to upgrade a walking track. There should be both a carrot & stick approach, perhaps the work time spent should be considered to reduce prison sentences, or at minimum be taken into account for parole applications. Make it possible for inmates to smoke if outdoors while on breaks (but not in prisons). Incentivise inmates to be classed as ‘lower risk’ to be eligible for more interesting/rewarding tasks.

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