Prison sued for ‘wage theft’

Administrators at Northward Prison are being sued for allegedly ripping off a prisoner for wages earned in a work placement.

The prisoner, Murphy Kencer Powell, told the Summary Court Thursday that prison administrators are refusing to give him the full amount of money he earned during a 22 month placement between 2002 and 2004.

Powell said the prison was paid between $650 and $750 per month for full time work that he did with Scott’s Equipment but the prison has told him he is only entitled to 40 per cent of it. Powell claims former Prison Director, John Forster, said that he would receive all of the wages upon his release.

Crown Counsel Joan Mattis, who is representing the prison, said Mr. Forster left the prison service in 2004 and was replaced by current director Dwight Scott, who brought in a policy under which prisoners receive only 40 per cent of money earned in work placements. As there was no policy in place beforehand, Mr. Scott declared his policy would have retroactive effect, the court heard.

Ms Mattis said as a matter of policy, prisoners have ‘no right’ to money earned on work placements, adding that prison administrators had ‘only been fair’ in allowing Powell to have 40 per cent.

Ms Mattis said it was reasonable for the prison to retain some of the money to cover the cost of arranging work placements. Powell complained that the $650 – $750 that Scott’s Equipment paid per month for him to work would have been one third of what a normal employee would have got.

The Prison Law says up to 50 per cent of money earned by a prisoner may be spent in prison and the other 50 per cent is to be saved for post release use, but Ms Mattis argued that the rule only applies to work done inside the prison and not external work placements.

Ms Mattis denied there was any agreement between Powell and Mr. Forster allowing him all of the money earned in the placement. Powell insisted there was and said he plans to call both Mr. Forster and other prisoners and administrators involved in work placements to prove it.

Powell, who is representing himself, is coming to the end of a total 15 year sentence for over indecent assault, threatening violence, attempted rape and actual bodily harm charges. He said he wants the money to re-establish himself outside of jail.

Chief Magistrate Margaret Ramsay-Hale said the case is the first of its kind she has seen but she questioned whether Powell will be able to pull it off without legal representation.

Prison Director Dwight Scott, who is named as the defendant in the case, was in court for the hearing. The Magistrate ordered that Mr. Scott allow Powell to communicate with Mr. Forster and any other witnesses Powell wants to call.

The matter has been set down for trial on 13 March.

The Prison Law says up to 50 per cent of money earned by a prisoner may be spent in prison and the other 50 per cent is to be saved for post release use, but Ms Mattis argued that the rule only applies to work done inside the prison and not external work placements.

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