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Preventing Recidivism Through Inmate Employment

By Todd Peterson

Give prisoners jobs! Real, honest-to-goodness jobs. Jobs other than the menial tasks we associate with prison life: serving food in the mess hall, doing laundry, scrubbing pigeon waste off the sidewalk. Jobs in career fields that can lead to viable employment after release.

At a time when the economy is in a downturn and many are struggling to make ends meet, concern regarding the employment of prisoners may seem somewhat dubious, if not downright crazy. However, if we are to lower recidivism rates – and truly rehabilitate prisoners – inmate employment is exactly what is needed.  Image courtesy workinglinks.com

Go sit in the corner and think about what you’ve done. For 208,118 [1] men and women in the United States, as of 2009, the Federal Bureau of Prisons is the adult – albeit more severe – equivalent of this child’s punishment.

Even a short prison sentence offers plenty of time for reflection. Although our past misdeeds should never be fully forgotten, after the first few days or perhaps weeks, of a sentence, even the most recalcitrant prisoner must move on and find a way to “do their time.” This is simply the healthy thing to do.

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Federal Prison Industries Contract Leads to Freeworld Job Losses

By Prison Legal News

The loss of a $45 million contract to produce military clothing has caused Tennessee-based Tennier Industries to lay off around 100 workers. The contract was awarded to Federal Prison Industries (FPI), also known as UNICOR, which will use prisoner slave labor to manufacture the clothing that otherwise would have been made by freeworld employees. [See: PLN, May 2012, p.1]. 

Tennier is located in a depressed area of Tennessee; its main line of business is military clothing manufacturing. The federal prisoners who will perform the work under the FPI contract will be paid from $.23 to $1.15 per hour. “Our government screams, howls and yells how the rest of the world is using prisoners or slave labor to manufacture items, and here we take the items right out of the mouths of people who need it,” stated Tennier CEO Steven W. Eisen.

Some federal lawmakers see a problem with FPI. “If China did this – having their prisoners work at subpar wages in prisons – we would be screaming bloody murder,” said U.S. Representative Bill Huizenga, the lead sponsor of legislation to overhaul FPI. “This is a threat not to just established industries; it’s a threat to emerging industries.”

Huizenga was part of a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers behind a bill introduced in Congress in December 2011, the Prison Industries Competition in Contracting Act (H.R. 3634), designed to change the way FPI operates. Under current policy, FPI has preferential status that requires federal agencies to purchase prisoner-made goods if FPI offers them with comparable price, quality and time of delivery to that of private sector businesses (with certain exceptions). While FPI does not always quote the lowest price, it is often able to underbid private companies.

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