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Prisoners At Work Essay, Research Paper

Prisoners at Work

Currently at least 36 states have industries which are operating within prison walls and employ inmates. Why have prisoners at work? There are four main reasons for putting inmates to work: 1) to raise revenue through the selling of goods and services made and provided by the inmates themselves; 2) to increase punishment (no more sitting around and loafing in prison all day); 3) to rehabilitate by instilling work ethics and skills that will help the inmate in the future); and 4) to better manage the population by giving the inmates something productive to do, keeps them busy. (Gondles 1999) The History section of this booklet shows that prison industries are nothing new, and that these industries have long been a point of heated debate. On one side, the public wants to keep prison costs down and these industries go a long way towards making some institutions self-sufficient. On the other hand, people do not want to lose their jobs to convicted criminals.

Opponents of prison industries generally disagree with the policy of allowing prison industries to compete with private sector companies. They claim that the low labor costs give prison industries an unfair advantage in the marketplace. It is true that inmate labor is cheaper, an inmate may make between .23 cents and a few dollar per hour where a worker in the free world would make between 8 to 12 dollars per hour for the same job. What opponents do not realize is that most states have laws requiring inmates to work, and there are simply not enough menial task to keep inmates busy. It is also to be noted that only about 50% of the countries inmate population works and only about 6.7 of the inmates are involved in a correctional industry (Ingley, 99). Why do we have such an outcry against so few participant? Sure, there are horror stories, such as Crisp county Georgia where some employees where laid off from recycling plant (subsequently ending up back on welfare), and were replaced by inmate labor from a local women?s prison (Cook, 1999). Other companies claim to be losing business to prison industries around the country, and it does happen. The question is this; does competition with prison industries detrimentally affect the economy?

Economists say that ?assigning work to the most cost-efficient producer is good for the economy,? (Ingley, 99). The idea behind this, is that although some jobs may be lost to the inmates, other jobs are created and more of them. Production by inmates required other worker to produce and deliver their raw materials, transport their goods, and service their facilities. This adds up to a net gain in jobs for the public.

The people who oppose an inmate work force also do not understand that although prison labor is cheap there are more than enough problems to offset the advantage over private companies. Prison industries must start with an untrained workforce saturated with illiteracy and inmates that lack socialization skills needed to work with teams. Inmates often do not have normal work ethics and may have problems taking orders from supervisors. The security necessary to run a prison industry also has a negative impact on profits; tool must be counted and locked up daily, raw materials must be inspected at multiple security gates, work is also halted for head counts, emergency response exercises, and lockdowns, all vehicles have to be inspected coming in or out the prison. Prison industries also have problems finding staff that will work in this environment at the pay that is offered. Prison industries also have to contend with a high turnover rate as a result of parole or inmate movement from one classification to another. If you factor in all of these problems , and their costs, you will see that prison industries are on the level with ?free? companies, if not at a disadvantage.

Once we have looked past these business quarrels we should look at the good prison industries do for society. These industries allow the inmates to pay for their own incarceration, retribution to victims, and to pay taxes. Participation in a prison industry also helps to rehabilitate inmates. The work gives the inmates a sense of hope, some skills for their future (outside of prison), and some money to get back on their feet after release. Participants in FPI (Federal Prison Industries) have a recidivism rate about 20 percent lower than the general prison population. The great decrease in recidivism alone makes this program worthwhile. We have to do something about the swelling prison population. Prison industries getting larger because of the increase in prison population. Too many people think it is a good idea to put more people in jail for longer periods of time. All of these inmates must have something to do. Why not put them to work for our sake and theirs. This program allows us to lower prison costs and increase rehabilitation. The positive side of having prison industries vastly outweighs the slight downfalls. Why not have every prisoner possible helping to defray the cost of their crimes?

Burn, Timothy. 1999. ?Prison Industry Grows as Inmate Population Swells.? Insight on the News v15n8:40-41

Confessore, Nicholas. 1999. ?Captive Labor: America?s Prisoners as Corporate Workforce.? The American Prospect 46:66-70

Cook, Rhonda. June 19, 1999. ?Prisoners hired, so ex-welfare clients fired.? Atlanta Journal Constitution sec: News; Pg. 1A

Ingley, Gwyn Smith; Cochran, Maureen E. 1999. ?Ruinous or Fair Competition?? Corrections Today v61n6:82-85+

Gondles, James A. Jr. 1999. ?Prison Industries: A New Look at an Old Idea.? Corrections Today v61n6:6-7

Munk, Nina. 1994. ?Captive Labor, Captive Markets.? Forbes v154n5:82-84

Nash, Kim S. 1998. ?Jailhouse IT.? Computerworld 32:24-26

Yae, Mike. 1999. ?An Analysis of Correctional Industries Programs.? Corrections Today v61n6:94-97

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