Prisoners at work: what they do and how much they make

The outsourcing of work to British prisons  

A prisoner at Coldingley makes prison gates in the steel workshop.

A prisoner at Coldingley makes prison gates in the steel workshop. (Source: Andy Aitchison, , Prison Image


Should prisoners do more work and pay taxes? Some seem to think it is a good idea.

During the election campaign, the Lib Dems have said they would reform prisons so that prisoners work while serving their terms.  Labour have also said they would increase the amount of time prisoners spend working.

Some argue that unemployment in prisons is the reason for the rising number of inmates affected by mental health problems. It also causes violence and makes inmates  less prepared to work after release.

“Most prisoners lead a life of enforced, bored idleness, where getting out of bed is optional,” said then-Justice Secretary Ken Clarke in 2010. He wanted to create a system with  prisoners in full-time work.

Currently up to 83 prisons in England and Wales have entered into public/private partnerships. The private companies supply equipment and materials and pay prisoners a salary of about £40-£50 per week according to The Howard League for Penal Reform.


Work outsourced to prisons 

In 2013-2014, prisons in England and Wales signed contracts with private companies worth £14.7m according to data provided by the National Offender management Service (NOMS).

General assembly and packing are the most popular jobs for companies to outsource to prisoners. The total cost of contracts for general assembly and packing work exceeded £11m in 2013-14 while laundry contracts amounted to £1.3m. Contracts for other jobs cost less than £1m.

These are the latest statistics available. Statistics for Scotland and Northern Ireland are not publicly available.

Type of work outsourced to prisons 

graph (8)

Based on data provided by the NOMS


The Howard League for Penal Reform conducted research on work in prisons that said  prisoners are happy with any job offered by private companies because of the higher salaries.

“Current wage levels provide little incentive to work and help to reinforce a negative picture of legitimate work,” said the Howard League report.

Those who are involved in work provided by the prison itself receive a token salary of £7-12 per week. Those who are unemployed receive an average income of £2.50.


Which prisons make the most? 

According to NOMS, HMP Bullingdon in Oxfordshire and HMP Elmley in Kent were the prisons that signed more contracts than any other prison – worth £312,301 and £309, 726 respectively.

But seven of 83 prisons had contracts worth less £1,000. One example is HMP Swaleside in Kent, which had a contract with Sharpak Aylesham Ltd worth only £95 only.

Interestingly, one of the largest prisons, HMP Pentonville, had contracts worth only £11,000, meaning the majority of its inmates are not employed. Pentonville is one of the most violent in the UK, according to the Chief Inspector of Prisons Nick Hardwick.

“It’s no good prisons sticking to their 18th century models. Prisoners should be allowed to pay tax and national insurance, a full day’s pay for a full day’s work in proper businesses, and bring prisons into the new millennium,” Frances Crook, the chief executive at the Howard League for Penal Reform told The Independent last month.

Please let us know your stories about work in prison. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s