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Chain gang redux? Prisoners should work to compensate for crime, U.K. justice secretary says

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British Justice Secretary, Ken Clarke (Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images)

Prisoners in England may have a new way to pass the time behind bars: a 9-5 job.

At a Conservative Party conference Tuesday, U.K. Justice Secretary Ken Clarke presented a plan to require prisoners to work 40-hour weeks, with a part of the earnings compensating crime victims.

"Most prisoners lead a life of enforced, bored idleness, where getting out of bed is optional," Clarke said. The plan would see more private companies employing prisoners to lower recidivism rates and help prisoners become more employable once they finish their incarceration terms.

Clarke does not plan to bring chain gangs back to life, where prisoners were forced to do hard labor. Rather, the move would see prisoners working in clerical roles and for utility companies such as the National Grid, which already runs some prison programs.

Most prisoners do little work, but by attending classes and workshops, they can earn about $15 a week.

Under Clarke's plan, the prisoners could earn minimum wage, about $9 an hour. Part of the prisoners' wages would go to their victims, some would be put aside for when they leave prison and some would be given to their families to make them less dependent on benefits.

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The U.S. jail system has a similar program in place, though the number of inmates involved is a small percentage of the total population. A Department of Justice survey in 2007 said that "Offenders who worked for private companies while imprisoned obtained employment more quickly, maintained employment longer and had lower recidivism rates than those who worked in traditional correctional industries."

Some critics of the program say that companies exploit the work force and that it takes away jobs from the private sector.

Let us know what you think of the idea.

And listen to some amazing chain gang music while you mull it over:

By Melissa Bell  | October 5, 2010; 4:51 PM ET
Categories:  The Daily Catch  
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Comments

The US is way too stupid about crime for this to ever work. This is a country that already has way too much trouble from prison industries, I have no doubt they'd rapidly subvert this to line shareholders pockets. They'd also do as they do now and lobby for harsher laws to keep their money flowing.

Victims wouldn't end up seeing a nickel. Also since too much of the US govt is already privatized, it's inevitable that corporations would find some way to corrupt the process for their own material gain.

Posted by: Nymous | October 6, 2010 4:52 AM | Report abuse

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