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Prisoners pay their way

PERTH prisoners are paying their way by producing 2,000 wine boxes for a South West winery as the prison system moves to provide external services.

Pine wine boxes made by Casuarina prisoners are being used to export wines to European countries such as The Netherlands and Switzerland and interstate.

Attorney General Peter Foss said a chance meeting of a winery owner and a prison officer led to an agreement between Casuarina Prison and the South West’s Fermoy’s Estate Winery.

The Ministry is also entering a number of partnerships with the private sector to produce other goods and services.

According to the Ministry of Justice prison industries manager, Hugh Cowan, brother of WA deputy premier Hendy Cowan, the Ministry is willing to explore a range of industries where they could help private enterprise.

Mr Cowan said the prison had access to about 3,000 prisoners who received between $13 and $45 a week, meaning the prison system could produce many goods cheaper than the private sector.

But therein lies the quandary for the Ministry. While the prison system can produce cheaper goods, under the national competition principles it is not permitted to if the private sector can perform a similar service.

The Ministry must charge rates comparable with the private sector.

It’s a fine juggling act between serving the public interest by making prisons pay for themselves (it costs $150 a day to keep a prisoner behind bars) and putting private sector businesses and workers out of work.

However, there is great scope for growth. In New South Wales, external work brings in about $35 million a year. In WA external work, including the wine box contract and the production of 4,000 cray pots, brings in about $1.5 million a year to the Ministry of Justice.

Mr Cowan hopes to increase this to about $4 million within a few years.

WA prison workshops have the ability to perform wood and metal work, mechanical repairs, upholstery, concrete and paint work.

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