Australia billionaire suggests letting prisoners pay for freedom

SYDNEY - Australia's richest person Gina Rinehart has suggested that non-violent prisoners could pay their way out of jail and become tax-paying workers to boost the economy.

In a column for the Australian Resources and Investment magazine, the mining heiress said the country needed more workers as the population ages, and getting criminals back into the workforce would bolster tax revenues.

"Let them pay to get out of prison or not enter prison (a new source of revenue), and let them be part of the tax-paying workforce," she wrote in the September issue.

Ms Rinehart, who has mining and media interests, said a similar system was used in the US state of Texas and had proved a more humane, cost-effective and successful way of dealing with non-violent prisoners.

She said while some offenders might be able to pay to be allowed back into the community, others could agree to forgo their rights to vote or to a passport if they were unable to come up with the money.

"And before the left media shrieks that this would only benefit the richer, non-violent prisoners, for those non-violent prisoners who couldn't pay sufficiently to get out of prison, there could be other means, such as should they agree to give up their votes, and or passports for x years, depending on the seriousness of the respective non-violent crime, they could then leave prison and rejoin the workforce," she wrote.

Ms Rinehart has regularly spoken out against the government and in the article criticised what she called irresponsible, excessive government spending.

"How much could be raised to go toward essential services if all the taxpayer-funded art and decor in government offices was sold?" she wrote.

"Do taxpayers and their dependants want, for instance, more money spent on expanding prisons or new prisons, or operating more prisons?"

Last year Ms Rinehart, head of resources giant Hancock Prospecting with a fortune estimated by Forbes at US$17 billion (S$21.7 billion), told Australians to "spend less time drinking or smoking and socialising, and more time working".

She has also warned that Australia was becoming too expensive for multinational companies who could hire workers for US$2 a day in Africa.