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New Jersey’s Jailhouse Goldmine: A Moral Obligation to Provide Effective Rehabilitation?

By Christopher Zoukis

Like most municipalities, Cumberland County in southern New Jersey needs to raise its revenues.  Last year it found a very effective way to do just that: fill up its jail.

Jails as For-Profit Businesses

While most of the developed world see institutions like hospitals, universities, and prisons as essential public services, the reality is that they are also businesses.  Patients, students, and prisoners are commodities to be traded.  These men and women are at a vulnerable time in their lives and need the best that the world’s richest country can offer them, but instead the institutions charged with their care look to see how they can profit from them.

Cumberland County Jail: Selling Jail Space

In 2013 Gloucester County officials decided to close their jail.  To the south, Cumberland County Jail’s population had fallen by almost two hundred over the preceding five years leaving empty beds.  The two counties agreed to a deal, and the first inmates from Gloucester County arrived at Cumberland County Jail, in Bridgeport, in June 2013.  Today there are usually at least a hundred Gloucester County inmates in Cumberland Jail at any given time.

The deal gives Cumberland County $10,000 a day for the first hundred inmates, then $83 a day for each additional one.  For one hundred Gloucester County inmates, Cumberland County stands to make $3.65 million each year.  Indeed, in the first fourteen months they have billed Gloucester County over $4.3 million.

Cumberland Freeholder Director Joseph Derella sees the program as an example of the county developing much needed new sources of revenue.  He believes the program is exceeding expectations and wants to extend it further.

Jail Populations as an Indicator of Success?

In what Cumberland County Jail’s Warden Bob Balicki sees as an unintended but beneficial program, the municipal and New Jersey State Police are now locking up around seventy more people a month than they were before the program started, thus boosting the jail population even higher.  Despite all the extra inmates at the jail, Warden Balicki has seen no need for extra staff.

Although many inmates remain in local jails for just a short time, many others can spend a year or more serving sentences or simply waiting out lengthy court proceedings before being sent to state prison.  It’s a miserable and anxious time, and being held further away from families and friends means fewer visits, and widens rifts between inmates and those on the outside.

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UNICOR: Prison Sweatshop or Under-Exploited Tool for Rehabilitation?

By Christopher Zoukis / Blog Critics

Each weekday morning at the Leavenworth minimum security federal prison camp in Kansas, more than 130 of the camp’s inmates troop off to work at the institution’s Electronic Recycling Factory.  For many, this is the first real job that they have ever held.

The Leavenworth Electronics Recycling Factory is a part of Federal Prison Industries, Inc., better known as UNICOR, a wholly-owned government corporation operated within the Federal Bureau of Prisons.  Founded in 1934, UNICOR’s objectives are to provide meaningful work for federal prison inmates, to provide vocational training and establish good work habits, and to bring in revenue for the Bureau.  That revenue is intended to ensure that UNICOR is at least self-sustaining, and hopefully making a profit.

Across the federal prison system inmates at 80 factories in 65 prisons make military uniforms and other garments, body armor, desks, storage cabinets, awnings, and solar panels, operate print shops, and even sort clothes hangers.  Some of these operations provide meaningful vocational and workplace skills that will help the inmates to find employment once they are released from custody, while others are mindless, repetitive jobs which many on the outside regard as indefensible slave labor.  In order not to interfere with private commerce, UNICOR’s goods and services are a required “first source” for  federal agencies, and its charter limits its sales to federal or state governments, although this is not always the case.

The Department of Defense has long been UNICOR’s biggest customer, accounting for around half of the $750 million annual sales.  The downsizing of the war effort in Iraq and Afghanistan, together with major budget cuts, has meant that the Department of Defense’s spending on UNICOR goods and services has fallen by a third, from $536 million in 2007 to $357 million in 2012.

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