Temping agency to open branch in women's jail

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The Independent Online
BRITAIN'S largest independent employment agency is to open a branch inside Holloway jail in north London employing prisoners at commercial rates, it emerged yesterday.

Reed Employment, the temping agency, is to set up an 'implant' in the London prison next month, initially employing four inmates. The women will canvass outside employers for work such as typing and telesales.

It is the first time a temping agency has offered work to prisoners in British jails, although other work schemes offering realistic rates are under way in Styal prison, Manchester, and Latchmere House, Surrey.

The Holloway women will be paid 'commercial rates' of pounds 3 an hour and will work five mornings a week under an agency supervisor. It is hoped to eventually extend the 12-month pilot scheme to all interested inmates with commercial skills, and other prisons.

Computer equipment and telephones will be provided by Reed Employment. The chairman, Alec Reed, is known for his work for women's charities and believes that female temps are the key reason for his agency's success.

Michael Whittaker, a director of Reed Employment, said: 'We got the idea from the Apex Trust report. If some of the prisoners are typists they will ring companies and ask to do their typing for them. The companies would then pay us, and we would pay them.

'The aspiration is to make a profit but that wasn't our motivation. We didn't say, 'Let's open an unbelievably profitable branch at Holloway,' rather, 'What can we do for these women?' '

Keith Massey, a governor of the prison, said he believed it was a positive idea which would be welcomed by inmates. The prison has a pioneering reputation for its educational opportunities. Last year it ran a televised fashion show in which clothes were modelled by inmates.

The growth of commercial prison schemes follows a recommendation in the 1991 Woolf report that prisoners should be paid proper wages for work. The concept has been promoted by the Apex Trust, which works for the employment of offenders.

The Holloway scheme has general approval from prison campaigners. Alan Taylor, an Apex Trust director, said: 'I'm del ighted Reed has taken this on.'

Frances Crook, director of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: 'It sounds like it could bring benefits as long as the prisoners are given the safeguards of outside employees, like the right to join a trade union.'

But Adam Sampson, deputy director of the Prison Reform Trust, said prisoners would have to receive proper wages. Cheap rates would be exploitative and take work from unemployed people.