Kenneth Clarke is a man who sees things differently to the rest of us. We might look at a prison and see an institution dedicated to punishment and rehabilitation. He, meanwhile, sees a handy labour force that could be paying back the astonishing £40,000 cost of locking them up every year.
And he has plans to make the most of this workforce.
More working prisonersWriting in the Telegraph he announced plans to double the number of inmates doing a full time job from 10,000 to 20,000. They will work on a number of contracts, including welding, plastering and printing.
Some of the work will be for the prison estate and some for separate contracts in the private sector. In return for working a 40 hour week they will be paid up to £17 a week, and receive access to training courses and facilities.
The benefitsThe idea is to help the prisons, by reducing the cost of locking criminals up for the duration of their sentence, and generating a small income at the same time.
It certainly makes a great deal more sense than sitting them in front of TV for hours every day and hoping it suddenly convinces them that life is better on the straight and narrow. The fact that half of all prisoners commit another crime within a year of being freed is testament to the fact that this simply doesn't work.
Clearly there are real benefits to this scheme. However, there are a few things that need to be cleared up.
The flawsFirst, just how much use is this workforce going to be? If you've never worked before, you are forced into it by an institution, and you know all you'll get at the end of it is £17 a week, are you really going to be putting everything into doing a bang-up job?
And if you're working as a car mechanic or a welder, isn't this just a tiny bit on the dangerous side? Wouldn't you like your car mechanic to be concentrating properly and committed to doing a good job when he reconnects your brakes?
Second, this isn't going to be free to set up. There needs to be workshops on site, which will mean spending a small fortune kitting some prisons out, and even building in some older prisons which currently don't have any suitable space. Does the government really have the money to invest in this properly?
And third, is this entirely new? Surely for 100 years we have had prisoners working for the prison estate, in the laundry, kitchens and so on. Is it really such a leap to have them building furniture and mending machinery?
Is it really a breakthrough that will change the face of prison life and transform the future of inmates, or just a recycling and restating of policies that the government knows will appeal to the Tory heartland?
What do you think? let is know in the comments.