Prison slavery

PRISONER JOHN SHELLEY WRITES ABOUT PRISON SLAVERY

Over the past ten years the prison population in
England and Wales has risen rapidly to a point where
it is now being described as having reached epidemic
proportions. With the government unable to cope with
the influx of prisoners and, in effect, having nowhere
to house them, it is once again, the private sector to
the rescue. Imprisonment is now big business for the
newly created custodial services industry with
companies such as Group 4 and Premier at the forefront
of running the privately managed prisons, and
Securicor dealing with movements between prisons and
ferrying prisoners to and from court. There is also,
however, another, more sinister side, that is not
immediately clear without looking at the wider
picture. The three main players have realised that it
is not just in imprisonment and custody that there are
big bucks to be made, but that prisoners themselves
can be used to generate even more cash to fill those
already overflowing coffers.

Rehabilitation programmes have been scrapped,
education classes relegated to the back burner and
skilled trade courses become a thing of the past. In
their place, production and packing lines have been
set up with pay and conditions reminiscent of
sweatshops in Third World countries.

The private sector is intent on exploiting prisoners
to fulfil its own needs, and it is aided in this quest
by prison rules and regulations making it compulsory
for all convicted prisoners to work. And since there
is no contract of employment between prison and
prisoner, there is no right for a prisoner to receive
a wage for the work s/he does. Instead prisoners are
given what usually amounts to no more than a few
pounds a week, and which the prison describes as a
‘gift’.

With no workforce to take into account when tendering
for contracts, companies such as Group 4 and Premier
are easily able to undercut other potential
competitors for the market share and have no problem
in winning bids for work that would otherwise be sent
overseas. These loopholes allow slave labour to
prosper in British prisons and mean that the
manufacturing and retail giants are shielded from
exposure.

So far the issue has been kept alive by Mark Barnsley
and his campaign against prison slavery, which has
staged a number of pickets around the country. Without
that campaign, the transition from what is now in its
initial stages in Britain to the full-blown version
that is already in place in the United States be
nothing more than a formality.

In the US prison slavery has become so heavily relied
upon by the large manufacturing and retail
corporations that they are actually helping to build
more prisons in order to secure more cheap labour for
years to come. A shortage of suitable prisoners to
fill those prisons has led to people being gaoled for
offences that normally would not have attracted a
custodial sentence. Prison privatisation and prison
slavery are one and the same.

By pledging your support to the campaign against
prison slavery we can at least bring this issue out
into the open and expose what has, until now, been
kept a largely private affair.

John Shelley, HMP WHIITEMOOR

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