Government adopts procedure for employing prisoners awaiting trial

Labour shortages make it necessary to consider new ways of expanding the workforce. The issue of prisoners’ employment has been discussed in Latvia for many years. Several applicable laws regulate the paid employment of convicted persons. In June 2007, the government’s Cabinet of Ministers created the legal basis for employing those who are imprisoned while awaiting judgement, and set out the procedure for concluding employment contracts with such persons.

The idea of employing prisoners has been discussed in Latvia for several years, not least due to increasing labour market demand. In March 2007, the country held more than 6,000 people in prison, 4,500 of whom had been convicted of a crime, while the remainder were awaiting the conclusion of their trial process. Approximately 30% of convicted persons are employed. More specifically, almost all of the convicts held in more open-style prisons were working, in addition to about 16% of those held in closed prisons and semi-closed type prisons. Open and semi-closed prisons have more relaxed policies regarding family visits, for example.

On average, 2,500 people are released from prison each year, but only one third of these find employment or pursue further studies. These statistics urged the Ministry of Welfare (Labklājības Ministrija, LM) to find ways of encouraging prisoners to acquire professional and systematic work skills in their place of detention.

Training and work practice initiatives

Since 2005, a project of the European Community EQUAL Initiative, ‘New solutions for facilitation of employment of former prisoners’, is being implemented in Latvia through the mediation of the State Probation Service (Valsts probācijas dienests, VPD). Within the EQUAL project, education programmes and work practice schemes have been launched for the prisoners in several prisons, where they are employed for wages under employment contracts in industrial workshops located in the prisons. Production sites may be established both by the prison administration and by companies in the private sector.

In 2006, the LM – using financing from the European Social Fund (ESF) – undertook two research projects to investigate why alternative methods of punishment are not imposed on prisoners. The results are published in the research papers ‘The role of compulsory work in eliminating social exclusion’ and ‘The role of community service in eliminating social exclusion (754Kb PDF)’.

Procedure for employing convicted persons

The procedure for employing convicted persons is set out in several legislative acts, including the:

  • Latvian Penalty Code;
  • Law on Detaining;
  • Republic of Latvia Cabinet of Ministers (Latvijas Republikas Ministru kabinets, MK) Regulation No. 481 of 29 October 2002 ‘Procedure of employment of convicted persons at imprisonment establishments’;
  • MK Regulation No. 74 of 19 February 2002 ‘Procedure of payment to convicts at imprisonment establishments’ and amendments to it (Regulation 212 of 29 March 2005).

Furthermore, policy planning documents in relation to the employment of convicted persons exist, including the: ‘Basic principles of the convict education policy’, supported by the MK on 15 June 2006; ‘Concept of resocialisation for persons sentenced to imprisonment’, prepared for submission to the government; and the ‘Convict employment concept’, currently in preparation.

Employment of other prisoners

Up to now, no precise procedure was specified for employing those who are imprisoned while awaiting a final verdict on their trial. However, on 12 June 2007, the MK adopted a regulation on employing the imprisoned person who is not yet convicted, and a procedure for concluding an employment contract with such a person. The Ministry of Justice (Tieslietu Ministrija, TM) was in charge of developing this regulation.

The new regulation states that the imprisoned person being held at the investigation prison can be employed, provided that both the prisoner and the prospective employer submit written applications appended with the description of the job and the necessary skills. The prison administration has to grant the permission in the form of an order, indicating the necessary regulations for employment of the prisoner, such as the place and time of performance of their duties.

The service contract is the basis for employment and the regulation specifies the essential provisions of the service contract, the procedure of payment and termination of the contract. The prisoner’s remuneration for the work done is transferred to the deposit account of the investigation prison and entered into the prisoner’s personal money registration card, instead of being paid in cash.

Commentary

Funding for the employment of prisoners is a critical matter. The first attempts regarding work in prisons were organised by the prison administration on a commercial basis. Now, with the change of the approach from the TM and new prison administration, issues related to employment in prisons are dealt with at state level. Paid work in prison will also be organised through internationally funded projects at EU level or by bilateral cooperation; however, this is not a long-term solution.

Along with the recent changes in legislation, a new system of organising prisoners’ employment has been introduced, involving the participation of companies in a public-private partnership. The TM evaluates the system with a view to further development, but no formal assessment has yet taken place. However, employers consider that the new system places too heavy a responsibility on those companies employing convicted persons; moreover, the employers have highlighted various unresolved issues in the legislation which discourage companies from hiring such people.

Raita Karnite, Institute of Economics, Latvian Academy of Sciences

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