Monday, June 9, 2008

Let Prisoners Work for Food

We're often asked to name the policies of our party, especially beyond the "moral" issues like abortion and gay marriage. In fact, the party has some very interesting and innovative policies, and crime and prison reformation is certainly one area of attention. In fact, the ACDP is very interested in implementing the Taiwanese model of work for prisoners.

My home town, New Hanover, has a family prison with very limited security. Frankly, if a prisoner wanted to escape, he would have ample opportunity. I gave a lift to one of the prison wardens recently, who told me that the prisoners are quite happy there - they get big meals and watch DSTV.

Let's pause for a moment and take in the picture. Law abiding citizens are working eight hours a day to put food on the table, and the majority of South Africans would consider DSTV a luxury. In contrast, the prisoners have committed a crime and enjoy a better life (apart from freedom of movement of course) than the majority. It's simply not right.

At the very least, prisoners should have to earn their food in the way that normal citizens do. However, the Taiwanese model goes a step better than that, and here is where it becomes interesting. Income is obviously earned from this work - part of it goes to covering the expense of housing and feeding the prisoners, and the other part goes into an investment fund. The prisoners are learning a skill while they are working in the prison, and when they are released, those funds are used to help them start a new business of their own. As a result, Taiwan saw a massive reduction in prison returnees.

Unfortunately we still have an image of the ball-and-chain convicts in black and white doing slave-type work for the prisons. The reality is that all of us have to work to earn our keep and feed our families, and prisoners should not be exempt from that. The other concern is that this could be regarded as a lucrative scheme - a guaranteed job with real rewards. Even so, this scheme would still be a superior alternative to what we have now.

Either way, the work for prisoners scheme benefits both parties: the prisoners and the public. It helps in the prison's role of redirection and reformation, and it takes pressure of the taxpayers.

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