Turn prisons into profit makers says Widdecombe

Click to follow

Prisoners will be made to pay towards their own board and lodging and the upkeep of their families, and will also have to make reparations to victims, under new Tory plans to create profit-making businesses in every jail in Britain.

Prisoners will be made to pay towards their own board and lodging and the upkeep of their families, and will also have to make reparations to victims, under new Tory plans to create profit-making businesses in every jail in Britain.

Ann Widdecombe, the shadow Home Secretary, will unveil details of the proposals to the party conference on Wednesday, together with a scheme to create a nationwide police cadet force for youngsters. Prisons will be turned into telephone call centres, printing workshops and small-scale textile manufacturing centres in an effort to make inmates pay their way and learn new skills while inside.

As she geared up for her setpiece speech, Miss Widdecombe gave The Independent a preview of her proposals to make prisoners work a 40-hour week. Having electrified audiences at the last two conferences with her "walkabout" speeches, both times without notes, the MP for Maidstone and the Weald is looking forward to another star turn this week.

Miss Widdecombe, who celebrates her 53rd birthday on Wednesday, says she is appalled by the idea of using prisons as "warehouses" and is convinced that genuine rehabilitation should involve putting some order back into the lives of those sent there.

"There are people [in prison] who grow up not having seen the pattern of a moderately successful lifestyle around them," she says. "So my big aim is to get a full working day into every prison."

Miss Widdecombe complains that the prison workshops that currently exist are not designed to make a profit. It is not a situation she will tolerate if the Tories win the election. She has already gained agreement from Michael Portillo, the shadow Chancellor, that any profits would be reinvested into the prison service.

"We should have many, many prison workshops actually making money and they should operate like small businesses," says Miss Widdecombe. "When they make profits, they will put that into expanding the business and taking on more workers."

Miss Widdecombe will insist that all new prisons must be built on the basis that they will include self-financing enterprises. In existing prisons, cell space would be converted to workshops if necessary.

"There's an awful lot of craftwork done at the moment and that's for good charities but it is never going to make money," she says. "We need more service-type industries. Our prisons make 2.8 million socks every year for prisoners but they don't make them for sale to M&S. Why the dickens can't they make high quality socks which they can sell?"

As the enterprises started making money, Miss Widdecombe points out, they would be able to pay prisoners much more than the £9 a week pocket money they get at present.

A Widdecombe Home Office will also set up pilot schemes to see if a national police cadet force could increase police recruitment, both for the regular force and for a reserve of special constables. The plans could see teenagers patrolling alongside adult police in rural areas.

As the most frequent diner on the Conservative rubber chicken circuit, Miss Widdecombe is immensely popular with the grass roots, a fact that has led to speculation that she could replace William Hague one day.

"I would never challenge an incumbent," she insists. "If circumstances did not involve an incumbent, then obviously I would have to decide at the time." But she would have a huge amount of support, wouldn't she? "No comment," she replies, smiling.

Leadership or no leadership, Miss Widdecombe hopes to retire one day to concentrate on her writing career. Her second novel is due at the publishers by the end of this month.

"It's called An Act of Treachery. And before you ask, no, it's not set in modern-day political Britain and it's certainly not set in the Tory party," she adds, perhaps a little too quickly.

Comments