Do Inmates Work On Weekends – Across the United States, prisoners are trying their hand at building desks, making dentures, polishing eyeglass lenses, sewing flags and upholstering chairs. Should they be paid more for their work? Photo: Mujahid Safodian/AFP/Getty Images
When Whole Foods promised to eliminate prison labor from its supply chain, it sparked a debate over whether prison labor is best for the well-being of prisoners or amounts to slavery.
Do Inmates Work On Weekends
The old saying is true. Prisoners make license plates. But that’s not all they produce. Across the country, prisoners are trying their hand at building desks, making dentures, polishing lenses for glasses, sewing flags and making chair covers. They run the prison laundry and kitchen, translate textbooks into Braille and even grow tilapia.
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The fact that incarcerated criminals often participate in prison work programs is nothing new. But today, such employment has taken an unprecedented scope as computer coding and skilled manufacturing combine traditional work. Those who run the programs say the training they provide is essential to preparing prisoners for success in the outside world after their release. But opponents say the programs border on slavery, paying inmates low wages and depriving them of the benefits and protections that come with civilian jobs.
The debate received significant attention this fall when Whole Foods announced it would no longer sell products with prisoners in its supply chain starting in April 2016. Natural foods grocery stores now sell haystack goat cheese, made from milk obtained from farms run by Colorado prisoners and tilapia raised by other Colorado captives. But some customers protested the exploitation of low-paid prisoners, and Whole Foods decided to remove the product from its shelves.
Whole Foods spokesperson Michael Silverman said, “We realized that supporting our supplier partners who have found ways to participate in the paid rehabilitation work that prisoners do can help them get back on their feet and ultimately contribute to society.” Member.” “To meet the wishes of our customers, we have decided to stop selling products made through inmate labor programs.”
According to the US In the latest census by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, using 2005 data, 88 percent of US it. Prisons have some type of work program. Most working prisoners are employed in support roles in the prison, including washing dishes, laundry and delivering mail. The pay for these jobs is a fraction of what similar work outside prison would earn. For example, in the federal prison system, wages range from $0.12 to $0.40 per hour. Some states do not require prisoners to pay at all.
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A small number of inmates (62,600, or about 4% of the population) work in programs known as “correctional industries.” These programs produce goods and services that are sold to external customers, primarily government agencies, schools and non-profit organizations. Through one of these programs, prisoners produced milk and tilapia for Whole Foods. Each state has its own correctional industries program, and the federal prison system has a similar plan called UNICOR.
“These are prestigious jobs,” said Beth Schwarzappell, staff writer at the Marshall Project, a New York City nonprofit focused on criminal justice issues. “The work is really interesting.”
Employees who participate in this program may receive slightly higher wages than other prison employees. In North Carolina, these jobs pay between $0.16 and $0.26 per hour, but workers can receive weekly bonuses of up to 30%. In Colorado, you can get up to a $400 bonus per month.
Critics often point to the gap between the low wages workers receive and the premium prices of some of the products. And some economists have suggested that paying prisoners at least minimum wage would have a positive impact on the country’s economy by increasing their spending power and reducing crime rates. Nevertheless, even at today’s wages, the high security costs of prison workplaces outweigh the potential benefits. And in most states, the revenue from these sales is legally required to fund program improvements and staffing. “They’re not going to make money,” Schwarzappell said.
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In the correctional industries sector, the prison industrial enhancement program typically employs approximately 5,000 people in collaboration with private industry that contracts with the correctional system. The workers must be given a fair wage for their work. Jobs like welding can earn up to $15 an hour, said Dee Kiminki, chief administrative officer of Pride Enterprises, a correctional industries program in Florida. However, up to 80% of an inmate’s income can be covered by room and board, victim restitution, child support and mandatory savings.
Proponents of the program believe that working while incarcerated can teach inmates technical skills and technical skills. Gina Honeycutt, executive director of the National Correctional Industries Association, said many offenders have never worked in a legal capacity before and need to learn the basics like showing up on time, listening to supervisors and working as part of a team. I said I would do it.
People with knowledge of the prison system generally believe that work experience helps reduce recidivism rates. In many states, including Florida, California, and Washington, data show that students who graduate from such programs are much less likely than average to offend.
However, it is difficult to determine what factors actually cause the low recidivism rates, as participation in correctional industry programs is generally limited to the most secure and motivated inmates. “It’s a chicken-and-egg problem in replication research,” Schwarzapfel said.
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In recent years, many work programs have become more focused on the effective rehabilitation of prisoners, Honeycutt said. “The change in the last five years has been from manufacturing products to arming successful criminals with our products,” he said.
To that end, the union issued a guide last April with 10 steps industrial recovery programs should take to maximize benefits for workers. Proposals include replicating private industry conditions in prisons as much as possible, training prison staff to manage the specific training and counseling needs of offenders, and providing comprehensive pre-release services for prisoners.
Some states already follow these guidelines. For example, in North Carolina, an organization called Corrections Enterprises works in 17 industries. In each case, the institutions operate formal certification or apprenticeship programs to enable prisoners to obtain recognized qualifications in fields ranging from welding to Braille transcription.
Advocates say efforts to connect released prisoners with jobs are also essential to a successful program. Kiminki said Florida has a diversion program to help inmates find jobs after release. He said more than 60% of transition program participants have found jobs with an average wage of $10 an hour. In North Carolina, Corrections Enterprises actively recruits employers to hire released prisoners as employees.
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Even as more programs are moving toward this model, opponents argue that prison work is inherently exploitative. In both correctional industry programs and normal prison work, employees have no right to organize or negotiate for better working conditions and their opportunities to seek better jobs are very limited. In some cases, these conditions make such programs unsafe.
“In America today, people are struggling with the enslavement of people in the criminal justice system,” said Paul Wright, executive director of the Human Rights Advocacy Center, an active opponent of prison labor and a former inmate.
Wright also points to the possibility of workplace injury to prisoners performing dangerous tasks and the limited opportunities for prisoners to seek legal recourse. For example, Prison Legal News, a publication he edits, has raised questions about the safety of federal prison electronics recycling programs. Regulations from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration state that the agency’s protections extend to inmates who perform the same duties as other positions, but OSHA must go through corrections officials to arrange visits or contact with inmates.
According to Wright, the only way to make prison work good (what Wright calls “prison slavery”) is to ensure safe working conditions, give prisoners the right to organize and bargain, and at least minimum wage for all workers. Provided. , and they keep all the profits for themselves. But they have little hope that these conditions will be fulfilled. Wright said American society is ideologically committed to using prisoners as a source of low-cost or free labor. “No one talks about the concept that prisoners have rights or that they should be treated with dignity or respect,” he said.
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But proponents say these programs, especially correctional industry jobs, are best thought of as training rather than traditional jobs.
“They’re not working to earn a wage,” said Karen Brown, director of Corrections Enterprises. “I’m trying to learn.” The weekend is a time for celebrating and making memories, but sometimes the unexpected can happen.