Prisoners may get paid to work in call centres under a new scheme to increase work opportunities in prisons.
Inmates already carry out many types of manufacturing work, such as assembling windows and doors and packaging products, but these are expected to be increased to make working a five-day week normal practice within prisons.
Many prisoners have never had a proper job before, so by working while they serve their time they are able to learn new skills as well as get into the habit of working in a structured environment.
The Ministry of Justice said the plans would increase the output of one3one Solutions, which replaced the Prison Industries Unit earlier this year, in helping prisoners to improve their job prospects.
One3one Solutions, named for the 131 prisons in England and Wales, has 190 external customers according to its website, which pay prisoners to carry out services for them.
However putting call centres in prisons would mean that prisoners would come into direct contact with members of the public.
A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Justice said: “Prisoners who learn the habit of real work inside prison are less likely to commit further crime when they are released.
“For that reason the Prison Service is looking at a number of potential schemes to increase work opportunities in prisons. However, no call centres are being run from prisons.
“All contracts with outside employers must comply with a strict code of practice which sets out that prisoners cannot be used to replace existing jobs in the community. Prisoner wages, for those in closed prisons, are set by prison governors and companies have no control over the level of payment.”
The average rate of pay for inmates working inside prisons was £9.60 per week in 2007, figures in the Prison Reform Trust’s latest Bromley Briefings factfile showed.
It said that in 2007/08 prisoners spent an average of 12.6 hours a week working.
Mark Leech editor of Converse the national newspaper for priosners said: “This is nothing more than sklave labour disgracefully disguised as rehabilitation.
“I am all for prisoners being given training that equips them with employability skills, but this nothing of the sort – those who operate utility company call centres train their staff to handle calls from customers in just half a day, anything more than that shows it is all about the bottom line.
“If prisoners are to work in call centres full time, and are to be paid prison pay rates because they have no overheads, then that is one thing, but the company company concerend must still pay the correct minimum wage rate for the job and donate the excess not paid to the prisoner to a charity such as victim support – but of course they won’t do that.”