How many of you knew that a percentage of prisoners pay helps support victims of crime?

Can we say that victims and witnesses are no longer considered the “poor relations?” Perhaps not quite yet, but it seems as though some victims may receive a little benefit due to the relatively recent implementation of the Prisoners' Earnings Act 1996.

In October 2011 Louise Casey resigned as Commissioner for Victims' of crime in England and Wales. It was only in November 2010 in her report, 'Ending the Justice Waiting Game: A plea for common sense', that Ms Casey claimed that victims and witnesses were the "poor relations" in the criminal justice system and she was known for her stance against anti-social behaviour.


So what has changed so far as the present government is concerned? Can we say that victims and witnesses are no longer considered the “poor relations?”  Perhaps not quite yet, but it seems as though some victims may receive a little benefit due to the relatively recent implementation of the Prisoners' Earnings Act 1996. The Act is now in operation following a pledge made by David Cameron, at the time of the General election in May 2010, to enforce the measures proposed under the Act. The measures were subsequently implemented under a statutory instrument which came into force on the 26 September 2011.


Apparently, under the terms of the Act prisoners, who are undertaking paid work in the community and earning in excess of £20 a week, may be subjected to the imposition of a levy. The levy may amount to up to 40% of their remaining earnings. The levy is applied to earnings over £20 per week, so if a prisoner earns £25 per week net, the levy is only applied to £5 per week, not the full £25. Net Earnings in these circumstances are after tax, national insurance, any court ordered payments and any child support payments. Complicated isn't it!


The good news is that the levy is paid to Victim Support, a national charity which works in partnership with numerous other bodies, with a view to supporting victims and communities. It was agreed with Victim Support that this provision would continue for the first year the Prisoners Earnings Act was in force, from September 2011 to September 2012. Victim Support uses the money to provide such help as emergency vouchers for food, additional home security and professional counselling for victims of crime.


Why have we not heard more about the scheme? Probably because the scheme only applies to prisoners working outside the prison for employers in the community, and affects a minority of prisoners, but we are told that in the first six months, from October 2011 to March 2012, around 602 prisoners were involved, the total net earnings before the levy were £1,193,000 and £383,724 was raised through the levy. It is thought that the figure raised could amount to £1million a year, in the future. This is despite the fact that currently only about 600 prisoners fall into the eligible category.


Prisoners themselves have challenged the scheme, one male inmate claiming that the 'rules interfered with his right to protection of property.' and another female prisoner claimed that the rules would 'disproportionately affect women prisoners.' Lawyers representing the two inmates, argued the payments were "disproportionate" and said there was "widespread concern" about the levy. Both prisoners lost their claim in The High Court, much to the delight of the former Justice Secretary, Ken Clarke.


Opportunities for prisoners to earn money is obviously limited as society would find it difficult to come to terms with the prospect of criminals being able to profit from their wrongdoings – and such a scenario could hardly be seen as punishment, so there may be difficulties in extending schemes of this kind.






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