Prison work in the context of social exclusion
Social exclusion is a multi-dimensional concept, but for most people an important component of social inclusion is work, meaning paid employment. The harshest form of social exclusion is imprisonment. Yet prisoners are required to work, which raises the question of the relationship between prison work and social exclusion or inclusion. Historically the purposes of prison work have been shifting and various, and in recent decades have been the subject of confusion and ambivalence. Empirical research on prison work in the 1990s suggests that underlying the confusion is the tension between opposing pressures: for social inclusion and social exclusion. In some respects prison work resembles normal work, and some prisoners receive training leading to qualifications which should help them get employment on release. Yet in other respects the prison's requirements to keep the workers captive and to maintain the system prevent inmates' work and training from being a socially inclusive experience. Other matters, like the funding of prisoners' training, reinforce a sense that prisons are separate from the rest of society. Efforts by the Prison Service since the Woolf Report to make prison regimes aid inmates' rehabilitation, i.e. their eventual social inclusion, have been hamstrung by the reappearance of three constraints which dogged progress in former years: an increasing prison population, preoccupation with security, and lack of money. These have arisen from public and political pressure for the social exclusion of offenders. Since 1997 the Labour government has initiated wide policies to promote a more inclusive society, has shown interest in restorative justice, and has given prisons more money for constructive regimes. Yet Labour has also endorsed measures which perpetuate offenders' social exclusion, like the Crime (Sentences) Act and the proposal to allow employers to demand criminal record certificates from all job applicants. Thus the conflict between pressures for social inclusion and social exclusion continues, and the tension is well illustrated by the issues surrounding prison work.