Another informational post by Minette, our International blogger. This one details work programs available in prisons. I’m familiar with the UNICOR program in South Carolina and Hickman Farms in Arizona. Both are extremely helpful for those who want to work.
Prisons hire inmates to do much of the work in prison or to make many of the products needed on site.
If someone has a long sentence, and a high school diploma, they are usually assigned a job. Prisons seem to leave people with sentences under a year alone. People without a high school diploma or GED are directed to classes. But others are encouraged to work. Interviewees reported jobs from making state license plates, cabinet making, maintenance work, painting, farm work, warehouse work, kitchen work, laundry, cleaner, landscaping, remodeling construction, cement crew, and teacher’s assistant. There are hundreds of possibilities. Jobs may be at the prison, in nearby businesses or in county offices and facilities.
In some prisons, inmates do their own laundry. In other prisons, it’s a prized job. It’s kind of a power trip since prisoners do not want to anger the person doing their laundry. Working in the kitchen is also a sought after job, as are the jobs outside the prison walls. Most jobs are worked between six and eight hours a day.
Many government entities take advantage of the low cost, continually available labor force that inmates represent. Using inmate labor saves the agency money and it has the added benefit of providing job training. Prisoners do maintenance and landscaping on government buildings and properties. Often state departments of motor vehicles have prisoners fielding phone calls. When you call the motor vehicle department, that’s why you get the message do not give the first level respondents any personal information. Inmates man local fire stations in California, Georgia and other states and across the country they are “hotshots”, fighting out of control forest fires.
Over 12,000 Federal inmates work for UNICOR, a government corporation with over 80 factories in prison facilities. In 2016, the company reported net income of over $44 million. Inmates get experience with vehicle repair, printing, manufacturing, and other programs. The customers are various government entities. Some states participate with “free world” corporations through the Prison Industry Enhancement Certification Program. While inmates get paid “free world” comparable salaries by the participating corporations there are sufficient payroll deductions for their room and board, victim compensation funds, family support, and taxes, to keep their income high but in line with what other prisoners earn in the prison, usually under $1 an hour. These jobs enable people who may not have skills to learn a trade, take on responsibilities, learn appropriate employment behavior and business etiquette and fill their time productively. Upon release, ex-offenders who have gone through these programs often get hired more quickly than their counterparts and tend to hold their outside jobs longer. In some programs the participants are managed by outside corporate managers, in others by Department of Corrections personnel.
Most states have a program like Minnesota’s Minncor, this company reported being in six of the state’s prisons. They manufacture prison furniture, but they also subcontract with privately owned businesses in the state. While paid comparable salaries to outside workers, inmates don’t get benefits and they work flexible hours. A company can get American made products without investing in more space. Minncor has been profitable since 2006, they use some of their profits to offer support (bus passes, additional job training) to released workers for a year. I agree with Minncor’s website that this arrangement provides training, avoids inmate’s idleness, and reduces both tension in the prisons and recidivism but there are many who think these employment programs are taking advantage of the prisoners because they are forced to work. They consider it akin to slave labor. Based on my understanding of the program, if the employee does not perform to a satisfactory level, the employers will let them go. They can easily replace them with another inmate, eager for something useful to do and more financially rewarding than traditional institutional work.
Arizona has Arizona Correctional Industries. Inmates are either sent out to work at companies, for example, farms or carpentry factories, or work in facilities on the prison grounds in call centers, workshops, printing facilities, and even a wild horse care and training facility. Arizona Correctional Industries website makes it clear they don’t want to displace Arizona workers, but they would like to replace jobs that are outsourced to other countries or help a company avoid inconsistent additional shifts and overtime. In most states, businesses within a state can generally contract with their prison system to use their labor.
Having a job provides funds for the commissary, to visit the nurse, or to build up gate money – funds for when the inmate leaves. It offers a focus for one’s time in prison and on occasion a sense of accomplishment. It also can fill in a blank on an eventual resume.