Beginning in December 2011, at least 23 prisoners were bussed in from the minimum-security HMP Prescoed in Monmouthshire to work at Becoming Green, a roofing and environmental refitting company, where they were paid the equivalent of roughly $.60 per hour.
“The whole idea of what the company is doing is bringing in free labor for the business and relieving their employed staff of their responsibilities, because obviously it is more cost-effective for the business to have criminals working for them than paying a salary to each person,” a former Becoming Green manager said after resigning. “There’s no reason why these people should have been fired. I don’t think it’s right, just to save a few quid. These people have bills to pay.”
Kenneth Clarke, secretary of Britain’s Ministry of Justice, announced in early 2012 that he intended to significantly expand job opportunities for prisoners, mainly in manufacturing. When unions expressed concerns about the expansion, Clarke assured them that prisoners wouldn’t put anyone out of work. But a Becoming Green spokesman told The Guardian in August 2012 that Prescoed officials arranged for prisoners to be paid token wages for a minimum of 40 days.
In response, a spokesman for Clarke said that the Prescoed prison “works closely with the company, the probation service, local authorities and community groups to ensure that any impact on the local workforce is minimized.”
Yet according to the former Becoming Green manager, the company had been making up “reasons to ... justify dis-missing people from the company so they could get more prison staff in.”
Nicola Vaughan, a senior manager at Becoming Green, said the employees who were fired were dismissed for “performance issues,” and that the terminations were simply part of doing business in a demanding industry.
“At the end of the day,” she said, “the [telemarketing] industry has a very, very high turnover ... it’s tough.”
Prisoner advocates said that although they are supportive of prisoners working outside the prison walls, Becoming Green’s program is counterproductive.
“We do welcome these opportunities, but it should be on the same basis as anyone else in the community,” stated Andrew Neilson of the Howard League for Penal Reform. “We don’t want the issue of prisoners on day-release being employed becoming one that divides people and effectively people are turned against those prisoners because they’re seen to be taking people’s jobs.”
Steve Gillan, general secretary of the Prison Officers Association, the union that represents prison employees in the UK, said using cheap prison labor was “immoral and disgusting,” adding, “[t]he association wants to see prisoners working and leading law-abiding lives, but not at the expense of other workers being sacked or laid off to facilitate it.”
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