Page last updated at 13:03 GMT, Wednesday, 30 April 2008 14:03 UK

Planned prison pay rise abandoned

A prison hall
Pay rates were last increased more than a decade ago

A planned 38% increase in the minimum weekly pay for prisoners in England and Wales has been abandoned the day before it was due to come into force.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he had delayed the decision on rates to allow the creation of a new inmate contract which would encourage good behaviour.

The rise from a minimum 4 to 5.50 for work inside jails would have been the first increase since the mid-1990s.

Prison reform campaigners accused ministers of "penny-pinching".

Mr Brown told BBC Radio 4's Today programme any changes in pay should be part of a new prisoners' contract which was currently being drawn up.

"I think any debate about what prisoners receive in pay should be part of that new contract," said Mr Brown.

"There should be rights, but there should be responsibilities, and it's the responsibilities of prisoners that I am interested in."

Behaviour standards

In a statement, the Ministry of Justice confirmed pay rates would now be reviewed as part of prison minister David Hanson's proposals for a new contract, which aims to prepare prisoners for life outside jail.

Under Prison Service rules, inmates who take part in "purposeful activity" are paid a small amount as part of measures to encourage rehabilitation.

Payments are made for prison work - such as catering, cleaning, data entry or component assembly - or attending classes or schemes designed to tackle offending.

Overturning the decision to raise prisoners' pay for the first time in 10 years is not only penny-pinching but also short-sighted
Juliet Lyon
Prison Reform Trust

Prisoners can also lose money for disciplinary reasons.

Nick Palmer, Labour MP and member of the justice select committee, said it was right the rise is prisoners' pay was put on hold at a time when other public service workers were being asked to accept pay rises of 2-3%.

"I do not think you can sensibly or even reasonably say that prisoners should get a pay rise of 38%," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

But Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, criticised the move.

"Constructive work in prisons, housing and employment on release and contact with families are the things that cut reoffending," she said.

"Overturning the decision to raise prisoners' pay for the first time in 10 years is not only penny-pinching but also short-sighted."

Paul Cavadino, chief executive of crime-reduction charity Nacro, said keeping pay at current levels did "nothing to help victims of crime".

"On the contrary, if we want to cut reoffending we should be moving towards better work opportunities for prisoners with more realistic wages," he added.

Frances Crook, director of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said being "paid a pittance to do menial and repetitive tasks" did nothing to increase a prisoner's employability on release.

Financial restrictions

The minimum pay for prisoners who are ill or deemed unemployed because there is not anything for them to do was also set to go up under the proposals, from 2.50 to 4, a rise of 60%.

But Colin Moses, national chairman of the Prison Officers' Association, told BBC Radio 5 Live's Breakfast programme prisoners should be paid only for doing work.

"What we need to do is get prisoners out of their cells and working - not pay them for idleness. We have far too many people in prison currently not being occupied with work."

The Prison Service operates a range of restrictions on prisoners' finances and they are not allowed to hold cash for security reasons.

However, they can carry out a limited range of financial transactions, including sending cheques to people outside of jail, and they can also spend their earnings on phone calls, renting a TV or buying goods from the canteen.

Last week, Glyn Travis, of the Prison Officers Association, argued inmates were happy to stay inside because they could obtain drugs, mobile phones and sex.

The Prison Service said the prisoners had never been in a position to escape.

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