The belief that call centre staff can at times feel like prisoners in the workplace has proved somewhat apposite after it was revealed convicted criminals in the West Midlands are being paid to be contact centre agents inside their jails.
Inmates at male prison HMP Oakwood, near Wolverhampton, and female jail Drake Hall, in Staffs, are carrying out market research for insurance firms in a pilot scheme which may be rolled out further if successful.
The Ministry of Justice said that all workers have to pass a risk assessment and are subject to strict security measures. In addition, they do not have access to any sensitive information about the people they are calling.
An MoJ spokeswoman said: “We do not want prisoners sitting idle in their cells when they should be working towards their rehabilitation. “We prepare offenders for work inside prison so they can get a job after release – this reduces the chances that they will reoffend in the future, meaning lower crime and fewer victims.
“At no point can they ask the value of items, record data outside of the secure systems or deviate from a carefully-worded script,” she added.
The Prison Reform Trust said it was backing the scheme. A spokesman commented: “We encourage this type of scheme because it develops skills that may prove to be useful for the workplace generally, and gives prisoners a greater chance of getting employment on release. I think it’s really important those people get opportunities to help them resettle.”
Last year, comedian Alan Carr claimed the UK’s 1 million unemployed youngsters should be given jobs in contact centres as a means of getting them into the workplace. Carr, who worked at a Barclaycard call centre for five years before hitting the big time, said: “Never mind National Service – young kids should be put in call centres, hearing people swear at you all day. It helps you talk to people – and to listen. I can talk to anyone and sound interested in what they say.”
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