1. Background

New Zealand has a long history of providing work experience for prison inmates, although through the 1980s many employment initiatives were run-down. Evidence shows that addressing inmates' offending-related needs and equipping them with the opportunity and potential to successfully reintegrate into society will reduce re-offending. Obtaining employment is one of these needs. The recent increased development in inmate employment is part, therefore, of the Department's new approach to rehabilitation and reintegration.

Since 1997 the Department has followed a policy of providing inmates with constructive work which will provide training and develop job skills.

In December 1997 the Department published the document Inmate Employment which set out the revised employment policy that had been approved by Ministers. This document updates that policy and sets out developments since 1997. This document further outlines:

  • the policy objective
  • a commercial approach to employment training
  • organisational arrangements
  • inmate employment training and incentives
  • marketing and costing implications
  • other issues.

2. Policy Objective

The objective of the Inmate Employment Policy is to:

Increase the chances that inmates will obtain legitimate post-release employment through the maintenance or promotion of work habits and skills and thus contribute positively to reducing re-offending.

Other significant advantages arising from the policy are:

Lowering custodial management costs through reduced tension and idleness of inmates by providing opportunities for constructive work; and

Ensuring the activities are undertaken with a view to producing a commercial rate of return and/or comparable social benefits.

In pursuing this objective the maintenance of public safety will be a paramount consideration. The Department will also follow safe and humane practices.

The objective is consistent with the main aim of the Department, which is to reduce re-offending. The objective targets the development of relevant work skills for inmates and thereby increases inmates' chances for post-release employment. Evidence shows that significant numbers of inmates had either no income or were receiving a benefit before entering prison. Current international research shows that having a job in the community is a major factor in avoiding re-offending. Improving employment skills through work experience within the prison increases the prospect of legitimate post-release employment. This will have a positive impact in reducing re-offending.

As noted, inmate employment training may lower custodial costs through reduced tension and idleness. Where there is an absence of programmes or work initiatives, the alternatives are frequently prolonged "lock-downs" or milling in a yard. This often leads to destructive behaviour and misconduct.

Overseas reports suggest that inmates with constructive work are generally easier to manage, have more positive attitudes, and are more amenable to participating in other programmes.

A commercial rate of return is required, except where the activity provides a community service. While the key focus of the Inmate Employment Policy is on contributing to rehabilitation and in turn reducing re-offending, it is also important that prison industries are managed in a commercial manner.

Commercial management will ensure that industries are sustainable and provide a suitable work experience. Any commercial margin achieved by Inmate Employment can be used to maintain and further expand Inmate Employment initiatives.

Where an activity provides a community service a commercial rate of return is not required.

Undertaking community projects can provide a work experience and skills benefit to the inmate and a social benefit to the community. For community projects the marginal cost should be recovered.

3. Categories of Inmate Employment

The future development of inmate employment should be in industries and occupations that provide the most relevant experience and training for sustainable, legitimate, post-release employment. The Department intends to use production methods and technology fitting industry norms and to benchmark against external standards.

There are currently five categories of inmate employment. These are:

  • internal self-sufficiency activities
  • community service activities
  • commercial industries which are wholly run by prisons
  • commercial industries which may run in cooperation with the private sector
  • release to work.

Self-sufficiency and community service activities will generally continue to be solely operated by the Department. These include cooking, cleaning and maintenance, which currently provide a large proportion of inmate work. However, there is limited scope to increase these beyond current levels.

Community service activities may be operated solely by the Department or may run in cooperation with community groups such as local bodies, charitable trusts, and marae committees. However, many inmates are unsuitable for this type of work.

Some commercial industries are run solely by the Department. For example, Corrland, which runs the Department's farms and forests, is presently the largest provider of inmate employment in this category.

However, the financial and other risks associated with prison industries remain with the Crown and where commercial industries are not economically viable they are often disestablished within a short period of time.

Other commercial industries are run in cooperation between the Department and the private sector. It is intended that the number of cooperative commercial industries be increased. It is this area which must provide the bulk of additional employment and training opportunities. Commercial industries, which are run in cooperation between the Department and the private sector, will be formed by way of an agreement between the two parties.

All commercial industries are subject to the oversight of the Inmate Employment Advisory Committee.

Some inmates will be released during the day to work for private sector employers. They will return to the prison at the end of their daily work.

4. Evaluation

An individual cost-benefit analysis will be undertaken for each industry, that is proposed for establishment under the Inmate Employment Policy. This will evaluate an ability to provide productive and useful employment training opportunities for inmates, and its ability to make a positive financial contribution. Business monitoring will be ongoing throughout the operation of each activity and will be utilised to assess the social and commercial viability of each inmate employment activity.