Working, studying and other activities on the inside
Working while in prison
What types of work are there in prison?
There are three different types of work within the prison:
- general prison maintenance, like cooking and cleaning (you have to do this)
- industry work experience, such as construction, farming or engineering (you can’t be made to do this)
- the work release programme, which is where you work for an employer outside prison (you can’t be made to do this).
You can also get approval to be self-employed within the prison or outside of the prison. Self-employment is voluntary.
Can I be made to work while in prison?
You can be made to do general prison maintenance work – it’s not voluntary. However, all other work is voluntary: you can’t be made to do industry work experience or to work on a Release to Work programme.
However, both industry work experience and work release are positive and important parts of your rehabilitation and reintegration plan. Doing this work can help you to get early release by the Parole Board.
How often will I work?
You can’t be made to work for more than 40 hours each week. You have the right to at least one day’s rest per week.
Working outside prison on the Release to Work programme
If you’re a low-security prisoner nearing the end of your sentence, you may be able to work for an employer in the community under the work release programme, with the aim of keeping the job when you’re released. You may be required to wear an electronic monitoring bracelet.
Under the work release programme you’re paid normal wages, but the prison will take money off for: your board (the cost of housing and feeding you as a prisoner); any fines or reparation that you haven’t yet paid; any child support you have to pay; and the costs of your travel to and from work.
Any money you’re paid will be put in your P119 prisoner trust account, or in a bank account outside prison where it will stay until you’re released.
What are the benefits of working while in prison?
Industry work experience and the work release programme can give you valuable job skills that could help you get a job when you leave prison. If you’ve completed this work well, this is also something the Parole Board will look favourably on when it’s deciding whether you should be given early release on parole.
Working in prison will also give you the chance to earn and save some money. Prisoners who have worked inside for some time often have quite a large amount of money to take with them when they’re released, and this can be a big help in settling back into the community.
Will I be punished if I choose not to work?
You can’t be punished or penalised in any way for choosing not to do work that’s voluntary (which means industry work experience and work under a work release programme). You can be made to do general prison maintenance work (like cleaning and cooking).
If I work while in prison, how much will I be paid?
You’ll be paid an “incentive allowance” while you’re doing general prison maintenance or industry work experience. Currently the incentive allowance has a maximum of $0.60 per hour, with most prisoners getting between $0.20 and $0.60.
The reason you don’t get the minimum wage for general prison maintenance or industry work experience is that the Department of Corrections says prisoners are in “employment training”, rather than being employees who are entitled to the minimum wage and other employment benefits. This classification may not be correct, but has not yet been challenged In law.
If you’re on a work release programme you must be paid at least the minimum wage. The prison can legally take 15 cents out of every dollar you earn for boarding costs (the cost of housing and feeding you). However, prisoners on work release are currently being charged board at 30%, and this means that many prisoners on work release may be being underpaid and may be able to claim unpaid wages.
Can I spend the money I earn?
You can spend up to $70 a week in the prison canteen or to buy anything that’s approved by the prison. The rest of your earnings will be kept for you in your P119 prisoner trust account. You’re allowed up to $200 at a time in your account, but you can have more if you get special approval from the prison.
People who work outside the prison on work release programmes can set up independent bank accounts and save their money in those bank accounts (rather than in their P119 prisoner trust account) for when they’re released.
For more information about P119 prisoner trust accounts, see the chapter “Starting your sentence”
Can the prison take out money from my earnings?
Yes, the prison can take out (deduct) money from your earnings for:
- any property you’ve damaged
- any fines or reparation that you haven’t yet paid (you can apply to have your fines “remitted”, which means wiped. For more information, see “Before prison: The criminal court process”
- any child support you have to pay.
If you’re working outside prison on the work release programme, the prison will also take money off for your board (the cost of housing and feeding you as a prisoner) and the costs of travelling to and from work.
When will I be told how much I have earned?
You should be given a regular update of how much money is in your P119 prisoner trust account.
You have the right to ask for a written statement for your P119 trust account, showing how much is in the account, and the prison must give you the statement within one week. Sometimes the prison staff will be able to print this out for you as soon as you’ve asked for it, but this will depend on how busy they are.