Saturday, 7 May 2016

Prison Essays (4): Work In Prisons

The issue of work in prisons and everything else which surrounds it is a polemical one. The wage is hardly an incentive for people to work. At the current wages and the prices of the various items prisoners can purchase, this amounts to rates of inflation not in their double figures but in their treble ones, and wages have remained more static than a Burkean view on change. Yet there is a great fraud protruding through society in the belief that work in prisons helps prisoners find work of some value; this is entirely false.

In most jails prisoners have the option of working in tailoring, laundries, print shops and cleaners on the wing. Perhaps the most impressive of these job titles is in the print shop workshop. There are usually two options in this work environment: work on a machine or don’t work on a machine. This sounds simple enough but it has implications. When you first enter these workshops you are not designated work on the machines (unless you are qualified or/and an experienced engineer). The two reasons are obvious. For those of us that are not engineers it takes months of training, but whilst that training that takes place, a place is reserved for you on the machine when a place becomes available. Even so, it is quite unlikely an employer will employ somebody in this capacity who has had minimal training, with no real qualifications in engineering, and the work experience whilst in prison would also be minimal. This is because prisoners are often moved from one prison to another fairly regularly, and in many prisons they do not have print shops, and even if they did, they, once entering a new establishment, would have to wait once again once a place becomes available.

As for workers, print shops who do not operate machines, that is something entirely different. This is what we may call “manual work”; in fact it is even more subordinate than that. It consists of perforating, sitting on a table, folding pieces of paper, perhaps cleaning a little and even getting permission to use the photocopier. These are not skills that need to be learned, it does not require specialist skills, and it makes the work for the prisoner useless and does no favours for them when they enter the job market when they leave prison,

Working in a tailors factory is just sheer mockery. Tailoring is hardly an ambition many of us dream about when we are in school or college. And perhaps the prison system is not being entirely truthful when it calls them “tailor’s workshops”, because it is hardly tailoring, and more sewing than anything else. All this amounts to is to relieve the prisoner of their boredom, get them out of their cells, sit at a table or wherever all day long, chatting, making drinks and so on while doing the occasional sewing. This, so we are told, is “monitoring prisoners to get them back to work”.

Working in the laundry workshop is quite different, yet at the same time very much the same. The difference lies in the contrasting work ethic. The similarities are negative rather than positive. Again, few of us when we are young dream about working in a laundry of any kind. There are no real skills learned here either. These industries are nothing more than factories and it exists to make profits for the prison industrial complex. There is little or indeed no intention to benefit the prisoner and the improvement of their lives through work experience in prisons.

The jobs on the wings in prisons amount to nothing. After all when a prospective employer asks in detail what work experience in cleaning they have, there is no doubt it will be self-evident the work of this nature took place in prison. But putting this aside, is cleaning an ambition many of us aspire to? Is this the limit? Are these the expectations that ought to be reached by thousands of prisoners? It is quite an abominable state of affairs. At the same time a propaganda battle is being fought. This propaganda is the falsified view that prisons help these prisoners in seeking employment.

A more cogent argument ought to be made here in dealing with this issue. Those unfortunate enough to find themselves languishing in prisons are just raw cattle in a meat-grinding machine. Their value lies in their work ethic, thus filling the pockets of wealthy industrialists, and this is the reason and only reason why they must work in these factories where they labour for the benefit of the prison industrial complex and not for themselves. what if they refuse work? Well that is another matter entirely but it ought to be discussed nonetheless.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO), would be rather concerned about the current trend in prisons throughout England and Wales. The ILO documents and berates, when it chooses to, organisations which indulge in forced labour, well that is not far from what many prisons are doing. If a prisoner refuses to work once they have been convicted, what happens? They have all their privileges removed from them, and thus leaves them in a very dark place, alone and isolated. The prisoner who does this, there is a major concern. Disobedience or independence of any sort must be met with punishment straight away. The wealthy industrialist must not let his pockets run empty. Part of work in prison is a humiliation process, and they do nothing but repetitive work, hour after hour, day after day and week after week. The pay in prisons is a national disgrace. Soon enough the prisoner acts like a machine and thinks like one, only echoing platitudes these empty-headed fools in authority care little about. This is the “model prisoner”.

When the prisoner’s Offender Manager, an Orwellian name for probation officer, comes to see their “client”, the question which is always asked is “Do you have a job?” or “Do you work in prison?” When the “client” answers yes, that part of the conversation ends, and the probation officer, the most docile of all authoritative figures, ask no further questions on work. For example they do not ask questions like “What job is it?” “What is involved in the work?” “Is it valuable experience?” No, none of these questions are asked because they know the answer the the question before it has even been asked. And furthermore, they have little interest, as there is no box to tick.

If the criminal class really had an interest in the need for ex-prisoners not to “reoffend”, they would give them real and valuable jobs while in prison. As we have seen this does not happen. The future is grim for these unfortunate people who have been thrown from pillar to post in the punitive system, outrageously, comically so, named the justice system. It is in the interest of the state for ex-prisoners to reoffend and fill up the jails so they can become raw material once again, and they are no doubt contributing to the disproportionate wealth these rancid industrialists seek to crave. For now profits, profits, profits appear to be the current ideology behind contemporary political leaders.

18-19th January, 2014

For my other prison essays see my previous posts. My next essay on prisons will be posted shortly.

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