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Nats Want To Force Prisoners Into Work Scheme

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Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
John Key
John Key

National will force prison inmates into work schemes and scrap their right to parole if they refuse.

Party leader John Key released the prisons policy on the campaign trail in Christchurch today, pledging to boost the number of prisoners learning industry-based skills and double those receiving intensive drug and alcohol treatment.

Corrections Minister Phil Goff said National was failing to recognise "huge progress" that had been made in both those areas over the last three years.

He said 500 inmates a year now had access to intensive treatment courses compared with 40 under the previous National government.

Mr Goff said 51 percent of inmates worked and the programme was on track to achieve a target of 60 percent by 2010.

"Rehabilitation is an important and increasingly emphasised goal within the corrections system," Mr Goff said.

"But the primary goal of prisons is that of keeping people convicted of serious crimes secure and ensuring the safety of the community."

Mr Key said re-offending rates were too high and inmates had to learn to change their behaviour.

"At present, 43 percent of all prisoners, and 65 percent of those under 20, re-offend within a year of release, and we must do more to change that," Mr Key said.

"It's a waste of taxpayer money to let these people serve their time without challenging them to change their behaviour -- only to release them and then throw them back into prison again when they re-offend."

Imprisonment should not just be a punishment but also give an opportunity for rehabilitation.

"Prisoners work just 15 hours per week on average, and that has to change. It's not good for anyone to have these people sitting around all day doing nothing," Mr Key said.

A National-led government would boost the number of prisoners learning industry-based skills through the Corrections Inmate Employment scheme by 1000 by 2011, at an estimated cost of $7 million.

That would increase the number of prisoners in the skills-based work scheme to 3500.

Mr Key said every eligible prisoner would be expected to take part in work and those that didn't would lose the right to parole.

Under the scheme Corrections tenders for projects and receives payment from customers based on market rates, but prisoners are only paid a fraction of the minimum wage for their work.

He said one in 20 eligible prisoners from the total prison muster of 8000 currently refused, but he did not think new prison capacity would be needed for those losing parole as most would tow the line.

"I'm sure those people will ultimately end up undertaking some work activity," he told reporters.

Mr Key also played down fears a turbo-charged prisoner employment scheme would take jobs away from other New Zealanders at a time of rising unemployment. He said current rules that required Corrections to tender at market rates should ensure that didn't happen.

He said an upside of the scheme would be more money in inmates pockets, which could go towards paying any reparation owed.

Mr Key said National was also concerned at the lack of drug and alcohol treatment beds for prisoners.

National would double the number of prisoners able to receive such treatment to 1000 by 2011. This was estimated to cost $3.4 million.

Mr Key said National would also allow the private sector to tender for the management of prisons on a case-by-case basis.

There was one privately run prison under the last National government, but Labour overturned this following the 1999 election.

Mr Key said National will be looking for a much better performance from Corrections.

"There is also widespread public scepticism resulting from facilities such as under-floor heating and flat screen televisions now available to prisoners, especially in the new prisons," Mr Key said.

"The National Party believes prisoners should be treated humanely, but that prison facilities should be in keeping with public expectations, reflecting the fact that prisoners are paying a debt to society."

National would also:

* Carry out a stock-take of support available to released prisoners, including substance abuse treatment, accommodation and employment;

* Talk to private enterprise about opportunities for meaningful work and training for prisoners;

* Investigate whether money earned from inmate labour could be directed into victim reparations, families, or a savings fund for their release;

* Re-visit the rules around eligibility for rehabilitation programmes;

* Review screening and treatment of prisoners with mental health problems;

* Expand prison literacy programmes.

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