UK prisons to open outsource call centres; David Cameron urges business to switch to prison labour

The UK prison systems will soon supply in-house call centres on contract through industry partners. One such partner, UrbanData Ltd, sent out sales solicitations to potential call-centre customers last month touting the advantages of prison labour: low overheads and "British Regional accents" (UrbanData subsequently went into administration). The Ministry of Justice characterises this as a rehabilitation scheme, and says that prisoners will earn a minimum of £3 per day. A Welsh call centre called Becoming Green recently made headlines for firing non-prison labourers even as it brought in extra day-release prisoners to work at the £3/day rate. Here's more of UrbanData's solicitation, as published in The Guardian by

In a ONE3ONE prospectus, David Cameron urged businesses to take advantage of the opportunity working prisoners offered. "Prisoners working productively towards their own rehabilitation will contribute to the UK economy and make reparation to society," he wrote.

"Many businesses, large and small, already make use of prison workshops to produce high quality goods and services and do so profitably. They are not only investing in prisons but in the future of their companies and the country as a whole. I urge others to follow their lead and seize the opportunity that working prisons offer."

Prison call centre plans revealed


  1. “UrbanData”?

    Does the American habit of using ‘urban’ as a thinly-veiled euphemism for ‘black, in a rather undesirable way’ not exist in the UK or are these guys just that crass?

    1. Urban now has undertones of blackness borrowed from US usage, but the geography of British cities doesn’t really support all the American connotations of urban.

  2. Does this mean that the UK prison system will be the same as the American Corporate one? 

    1. The US hasn’t always had an out of control prison system.  In fact, you can see how things have changed:  take the Coal Creek War, in which miners were being put out of work by forced prison labor.  The response in 1891?  The miners repeatedly attacked and burned down the prison, freeing hundreds of inmates from what was effectively slavery.  And it worked!  Convict leasing was banned soon afterwards.

      The lesson from the US is that if you have massive a prison population, you’ll find a way to make money off them.  The best way to disrupt this is freeing prisoners – or better yet, never jailing them in the first place.

    1. I suspect that working a call center for three pounds a day would drive me right back into the warm and welcoming arms of a life of crime…

        1.  I would far rather they were sitting around in their cells contemplating their mistakes, than having them displacing people from jobs which is what is happening. This prison labour force is able to undercut any agency or person putting themselves up for hire. These buffoons didn’t learn from their mistake of forcing people to work for peanuts for the likes of Tesco etc. as work experience in order to qualify for their benefits. That just allowed the companies taking advantage of this scheme to dump others out of jobs and just have a never ending supply of essentially free labour.

      1. I’m a pretty peaceful and zen guy but when I worked in a call centre, I often had the urge to punch the morons on the other side of the phone call. Imagine what that’ll do to people who I assume are in for violent offenses and presumably more likely to have anger management issues. I also had access to a lot of data about customers.

        1. clearly it ain’t gonna be sensitive data is.
          not all criminals are violent. being violent in prison extends the jail time.

  3. eurgh. It’s got to the point where I’m no longer surprised by the distasteful things that come out of his mouth. No doubt these businesses will be held up as shining examples of small/medium enterprise growth in a couple of years. How about protecting people in low income jobs for once in your life Dave you utter scumbag?

  4. Austerity…  it can work for you to!
    Make the little people angry, arrest them on trumped up charges and then have them work for “prisoner” wages… it would be wrong to call them slave wages.

    1. The postbellum southern united states had this system down to a science.

      The tyrannical war of northern aggression may have made slavery illegal; but it didn’t make introducing a raft of offenses like ‘vagrancy’, cracking down on uppity former slaves, and then leasing the resulting prison labor to friendly local corporations at attractively low rates…

      Today, thanks to the internet, you can now shop an attractive catalog of products and solutions provided by the United States’ unmatched pool of incarcerated talent! (and yes, Call Center Solutions are available, eat our dust, limeys!)

      1. Yes, we Southerners had it down to a science, and we’ve continued the glorious tradition to this very day. It’s no accident that the largest private prison corporation, Corrections Corporation of America, is based here in Nashville, Tennessee.

        Sometimes I think the Civil War didn’t really end slavery, particularly in the South; it just forced it to go by a different name.

        1. If it weren’t for the fact that so many Americans think that its failure was a good thing, ‘reconstruction’ would probably be case #1 in the “‘Nation Building’ is REALLY HARD, Just. Don’t. Go. There.” textbook provided to high level civilian and military administrators.

    1.  I’m of the opinion that in the eighties, even Thatcher would have considered this political suicide. I don’t say she wouldn’t have liked it, probably one of her favourite, sweatiest fantasies. Actually postulating it in public, never mind cheerfully going ahead and doing it, however. But nu-labour opened the doors for you to be as bat-shit crazy as you like and no-one would care. I hate ALL our government, with the possible exception of Tony Benn and Jim cousins

      1. “I hate ALL our government”

        I suppose that’s what I meant. I mean I have a particular dislike for the android known as Cameron (with Theresa May being my least favourite politician) – but I agree that they’re all as bad as each other. Voter apathy is strong with me, I just feel like I’m picking 1 of many bad choices. It certainly doesn’t feel like democracy, in that I don’t feel I have any control over who the government is, who they work for and what they do.

        1.  Home secretaries seem to be among the worst. Not sure whether it attracts particularly nasty people, or whether the job brings out the nasty authoritarian in everyone.

          But to be fair, the previous lot were actually much nastier than the current ones.  After all, he took the country into two wars, one of which was clearly illegal and against popular opinion (the other one was just clearly unwinnable).  He introduced RIPA , draconian and misguided terror laws including indefinite detention without trial , officially made all UK citizens subject to US laws while in the UK (a.k.a. the “Poodle” Act), introduced 3,600 new criminal offences , etc etc etc.

          And the vast use of PFI. And innumerable quangos. Blanket surveillance via CCTV.

          I could go on, but it’s too depressing.

          The one good idea they put into practice was making the Bank of England independent – and then they fucked that up by excluding housing from the inflation measure. Leading straight to the next housing bubble.

          oh, and thanks to a ridiculous gerrymandering and a ludicrous voting system, he “won” three consecutive elections with huge majorities, giving him essentially dictatorial power, despite never getting anywhere near a majority of the vote (43.2, 40.7, and 35.24%).

          So, on balance, the current government haven’t done that badly by UK political standards.  Yes, they should have had the great repeal bill, and they should have been more stringent and more targeted in their cuts (e.g. you’d get more benefits and less damage out of sacking 3/4 of civil servants in the MoD, but instead they cut soldiers…).

          But compared to the last lot they’re at least a small step in the right direction.

          1. > Home secretaries seem to be among the worst. Not sure whether it attracts particularly nasty people, or whether the job brings out the nasty authoritarian in everyone

            The latter. Which is why nobody wants to do it, hence the current appointment (May is the only senior female in the cabinet, she could not be denied a major role, so she got the worst one available). The previous roll of (dis)honours for Labour is quite fun to read: people like John Reid and Jack Straw used to be popular before they drank the poisonous calice.

            It’s probably because Home Secretary powers are tangible and extremely close to the unadulterated stuff which, famously, corrupts absolutely.

        2. Voting offers but two choices:

          1. Turds
          2. Turds (of a very slightly different colour)

          Yes I’m apathetic – but it’s dam hard not to be when the choices offered stink.

          1. I too have been apathetic and not really bothered about who took power since they’re all a shower of shite. But the way the Tories have decimated public services and artificially deepened a recession on an ideological drive has made me think that perhaps those of us who are disillusioned need to think long and hard about how we display that.

            Not voting for anyone means we can’t be accused of supporting a bunch of bastards when they take power. But it also means committing everyone else to a life of misery when the “wrong ones” get in.

            Maybe the trick is to just pick whichever candidate or party is the least shit and vote for them. Or pick whichever party/candidate you *really don’t* want to get in and vote to try to keep them out. 

            The politicians tell us all the time that apathy is good for no-one and we see it as a cynical attempt to win more votes for themselves. But perhaps, just once in their miserable lives, they might actually be telling the truth.

            If you can’t bring yourself to vote for someone in support, vote to keep one out. We won’t end up with the best politicians, but hopefully, collectively, we can weed out the worst. 

          2. Voting for the candidates on their merits alone is the conscientious way, party affiliations to be ignored. 

            But it only works if many or most do it. 

            I’ve supported candidates of many stripes based on that. Sending a decent person to governance is a benefit to all, sending a person strategically representing a party in order to combat another party fails all. 

            The more decent persons sent, the longer it takes for them to be corrupted, the greater the chance of accountability, nonpartisan legislation on merit instead of strict ideologies. But again, it hardly matters where most people are tricked into supporting parties instead of candidates.

            edit- to do this I often would have to seek candidates outside my own riding/ward/county/city/state/parish and support the candidate with volunteerism, while my vote would go to the best candidate were I was allowed to vote, even if all of them kinda sucked.

  5. Call centres? As in, those things that provide instant access to your personal data?

    (Or, those things to which you have to supply personal data in order to have instant access?)

    1. ‘I’m sorry, I can’t take this call right now. Give me your number and I’ll call you back at your inconvenience.’


      ‘Hi, can you hang on a minute? I just have to get something off the stove,’ and leave the phone off the hook.

    2. Does this mean we can finally stop feeling bad about hanging up on telemarketers at suppertime?

      You feel better about upsetting slave laborers than free ones?

  6. They will “make reparation to society” will they? It seems more likely they will increase the margins of the companies favoured with this cheap labour; though I suppose the benefit to the companies will “trickle down” to society in the form of more jobs…

    1. Really, I suppose that it is a trickle up. 

      As more prisoners enter the private workforce, usurping the employment of private citizens and residents, “unemployment” of the private pool increases, crime increases as a result long accepted, prison pools grow as a result long accepted, prison workforces grow, usurping the employment of private citizens and residents,”unemployment” of the private pool increases, crime increases as a result long accepted, prison pools grow as a result long accepted, prison workforces grow, usurping the employment of private citizens and residents,”unemployment” of the private pool increases, crime increases as a result long accepted, prison pools grow as a result long accepted, prison workforces grow, usurping the employment of private citizens and residents,”unemployment” of the private pool increases, crime increases as a result long accepted, prison pools grow as a result long accepted, prison workforces grow, usurping the employment of private citizens,”unemployment” of the private pool increases, crime increases as a result long accepted, prison pools grow as a result long accepted, prison workforces grow, usurping the employment of private citizens,”unemployment” of the private pool increases, crime increases as a result long accepted, prison pools grow as a result long accepted, the cycle completes with labour fully imprisoned, promotion to management or police is the only accepted furlough though heavily probated until graduation to that 5% of the population that represents the managing middle class that serves the .00001% of the population that owns society and governance. Police and military are the new middle class and represent 12-15% of society. 

      Utopia achieved. Would you like to try again?

      1.  That can only go so far…  Once a certain percentage of the population is incarcerated and working in call centers, there’s not enough people on the ‘outside’ who need to use the services that the call center provides.

        But your cynicism is a fine vintage and one that I find myself agreeing with for the most part.

  7. The UK government recently closed a large number of Remploy projects, which provided important employment and training to the disabled, on the grounds that they didn’t make any profit.  But they are willing to give money to private companies to do this?  Gah.

  8. “to produce high quality goods and services and do so profitably”

    profit for who? not for the prisoners, nor for the people who lose their jobs to them.

    Cameron you are utter fucking scum.

    1. No, I don’t think he’d be welcome in the Male Auxiliary. I know they’re all for personal violence against men, but not for this sick structural violence which ends up hurting everyone.

      Goldthirsty idiot.

        1. I was referencing Valerie Solanas. She shot Andy Warhol, and semi-satirically called for cutting up men in the SCUM Manifesto, but she never injured as many people as these neoliberal/neoconservative politicians. Cameron can’t be utter fucking scum because SCUM would never take him.

  9. This makes me so angry I am in danger of losing my lunch through indigestion or worse. These people are scum. End of. 

    The “these people” bit doesn’t mean the prisoners, it means the Tories and businesses exploiting prisoners. 

    Actually,  come to think on it some of the prisoners may well have done some pretty bad things to get locked up and may well be scum too but they don’t deserve to be exploited by the other richer scum who aren’t in jail but probably should be. I will stop now.

    1.  Well, given that we’ve locked them up at great expense (some for good, others probably for not so good reasons), why shouldn’t they work?

      1. Nothing wrong with prisoners working in principle. But, if you let businesses get them for less than the minimum wage, then no canny business would hire minimum wage staff for jobs they can get prisoners to do.

        As such, this sort of policy actually creates unemployment, and increases income disparity. To give but one problem with this approach.

      2. The only way that this system could make sense to the taxpayer, the citizen, the prisoner or the honest people in governance is if the difference between the commissary paid the prisoner and minimum wage (if the work is usually minimum wage) be paid by the company to the prison system offsetting costs of incarceration, as well the company should pay at least a portion of what it pays in support of benefits and pensions paid to normal employees, again paid to the system to offset costs of incarcerations.

        The benefit to the company should be limited to possible tax relief and the sure knowledge that they would then be actually benefitting society, as a balanced society is a better market.

        1. I could see this being legit if the difference went into a trust account for the prisoner, made available for purposes specific to helping them put their lives together when they are paroled (damage deposit on an apartment, tuition fees, clothes for job interviews, transit passes…), and any balance handed over outright when the sentence is completed.

      3. no problem with prisoners working – but not for the enrichment of business. let the wages (exactly the same ones anyone else would be paid – otherwise it’s just a way drop wages for the greed of a few)  be divided fairly between themselves, the cost of incarceration and victims. 

        a third all round possibly.Dave and his oily ilk don’t need to put their lying snouts anywhere near this.

      4. Whatever happened to rehabilitation which included education? Is every human in a jail or prison just to be written off with no consideration to the potential contributions to society they can make? Case in point: Bonnie Bergen’s program that teaches prisoners how to raise and train dogs that go on to become a service dog to someone on the outside. And then there’s the fact that not every one in jail or prison is guilty of any crime.

    2. I would argue that whatever the scummery rate of those criminals is, putting them in prison and then forcing them into a politically correct version of slavery isn’t going to make that rate go down.

      (Edit to clarify: Putting criminal scum in prison is actually counterproductive to the point of absurdity.)

  10. Good work, you guys. Of course as demand for prison labor rises you’ll have to find excuses to send more people to prison. Expect a strong push for “law and order” in 3 – 2 – 1 …

  11. Here we go, following the US towards the police state. I suppose we’ve already got the military-industrial complex, might aswell get onboard with the prison-industrial complex.

  12. First the Welsh coal mines under Thatcher, now the Welsh call centres under Cameron.  The Conservatives sure do love sticking it to Wales, don’t they? 

    1. They need to pick on somebody, and Scotland isn’t proving to be a very cooperative victim.

  13. Nothing teaches “Don’t screw people over” like being made to work for greedy corporate ****s for 3 quid a day. Well, they have nothing to complain about, it’s probably voluntary after all. You can spend your days in a 12 by 12 feet cubicle instead doing nothing.

    Oh… did I say cubicle. I meant cell.

    Cubicle is maybe 9 by 9 feet tops and you don’t have the option to sleep all day, but at least the money is better.

    Of course you have to pay for your own food, transportation, housing, healthcare. pension, clothes, gym… and then there’s taxes… and you still work for a greedy corporate ****.

    I guess I was wrong. It sounds like a pretty sweet deal after all.

  14. Couple of million jobless, more redundancies by the day, Cameron’s answer? Make benefit claimants work for free for huge wealthy chain stores and prison labour work for pittance. Who needs to pay wages these days?

    People looking for a job need to compete with not only their peers, but cheap foreign labour, free jobseekers workers and next-to-no-cost prison labour. Want a degree? Here’s £30,000 debt.

    You’d be a fool not to see what the game is. You can still thrive in the system, but boy do you need to shine.

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