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Prison webshop: rehabilitation with a schnitzel cutter

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Vienna - "Original cookie cutter to serve your guests a schnitzel in the contours of Austria", says the product description. The article page does not look any different from the usual online shops, but the 79.90 euro stainless steel schnitzel cutter is not made in a company with open factory gates, with unions, collective wages and social benefits. But in the Sonnberg detention center in Lower Austria, which specializes in sex offenders.

The cooking utensil and, for the time being, 42 other unique items, which are manufactured in seven Austrian prisons, can now be ordered at jailshop.at. The initiative goes back to Justice Minister Wolfgang Brandstetter (ÖVP) personally. Far too little is known "which excellent handicraft products the prisons produce, but that is changing now - with Jailshop", says Brandstetter in a promo video, reminiscent of a teleshopping moderator.

"Craft that sits" is the ambiguous slogan of the portal operated by the Salzburg Prison, and the logo is not free from allusions either: It shows three vertical lines that inmates supposedly scratch into walls to count the days.

Under the title "Doing good", Brandstetter explains to potential customers that "by purchasing these products they are supporting the reintegration of criminals". The structured daily routine through employment and the learning of skills that will also be useful after imprisonment help the inmates, says the Justice Minister.

One to 1.50 euros per hour

But the project is not entirely free of self-interest, even for the public sector. Because the compensation for the work, to which the currently around 9,000 prisoners in Austria are fundamentally obliged, is 25 percent of the index wages, i.e. 1.46 to 2.19 euros per hour. The state keeps the remaining 75 percent as a "contribution to the enforcement costs", as does the profit margins from selling at the final price in the online shop.

The 6,000 inmates who actually work in the prison workshops, after deducting the employee share for unemployment insurance, remain "between about one euro and 1.50 euros per hour," as the Ministry of Justice (BMJ) asked for STANDARD. Half of this will be credited to your own account, the other half will be saved in the form of a reserve for the time after your release from prison.

Sort pens by color

The establishment of the web shop can be read as an answer to the increasing demands of the Ministry of Finance on the judiciary to intensify the "expansion of the workforce". However, jailshop.at will hardly be able to compensate for the increasing expenses for the ongoing operation of the penal system. In the ten years since 2007 alone, the annual costs for the execution increased from 342 to 489 million euros - with almost the same number of inmates. Brandstetter's spokeswoman Stephanie Schlager attributes the increase to legally required new construction and renovation projects, as well as additional costs for personnel and health care.

In order to further increase the profits from prison labor, the judiciary will probably have to bring its offers even more closely to the private sector. There, too, one is increasingly aware of the favorable production possibilities. In March, for example, Gea signed a contract for the production of its Waldviertel shoes in the Stein prison.

As a research by the magazine "Datum" showed, not only the exhaust manufacturer Remus or the Brau Union have their products manufactured in whole or in part in domestic prisons, but inmates also print flyers for parties such as FPÖ, ÖVP and SPÖ as well as companies such as Spar, Wein & Co or Burton. They repair the self-service stands of the free magazines "Austria" and even colored pencils from Jolly and coat hooks from C&A are sorted in Austria's shops. (Michael Matzenberger, June 23, 2017)