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Prisoners' Financial Inclusion

27th October 2010

Time is Money: financial responsibility after prison is a recent report released by the Prison Reform Trust and UNLOCK in the UK highlighting the importance of maintaining prisoners' financial inclusion in society, stressing the importance of such in order to help reintegrate offenders into society.

Upon introduction to a custodial life prisoners' ability to organise and have access to their financial affairs is greatly reduced. Many are unable to deal with their bank accounts, make arrangements for their families outside or to deal with outstanding debts beyond the prison walls, the repercussions of such being exacerbated by the high propensity of prisoners in debt.

This report believes that prisoners who are financially included in society will have a greater chance of avoiding re-conviction. It is hoped such will better facilitate those leaving prison to reintegrate in society, by helping ensure access to credit and the ability to pay bills such as housing repayments upon release. 

The report recommends that upon induction prisoners should be given practical advice on financial matters and granted access to bank accounts. It is also felt that relevant information and advice should be made available to both prisoners and members of their family about how to deal with any unresolved debts. 

The lack of real work and real wages in prisons prevents people from being in a position to meet their commitments such as paying back creditors or supporting their families. It is hoped that the opportunity to earn a real wage for those willing, attached with the financial advice and information, will put prisoners in a more positive position to avoid re-offending upon release. 

Post discharge employment is a primary factor in reducing re-offending. People with criminal convictions face discrimination when re-entering the employment market, making it difficult to secure an income after release. The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 is complex piece of UK legislation covering the requirement to disclose convictions in various situations and for various periods of time depending on the sentence given. At present similar legislation in Ireland is only at the bill stage, Spent Convictions Bill. The report feels that the act should be amended to ensure greater proportionality between the rights of employers and the need to remove obstacles between employment people with previous convictions. At present too many people with convictions fall outside the protections of the Act due to sentence inflation and an increasingly vast set of exemptions, and too few prisoners are aware of their rights under such legislation.

A criminal conviction can impede access to banking and insurance services, with the unintended consequences of increasing the risk of re-offending while trapping the person in low income levels. Poor access to such financial services not only affects a person’s financial status, but has long term impacts on their future employment and housing prospects. With effective assessment in place and quality information, prison can provide an opportunity for people to begin to deal with financial problems, putting them in a more stable position and therefore better suited to societal reintegration. This can be further enhanced by the opportunity to work in prison and the minimisation of discrimination upon re-entering the employment market. 

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