ACLU Opposes End to Prison Work Programs; Calls Inmate Employment Important for Rehabilitation

April 24, 2002 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – Saying inmate work is an important component of rehabilitation, the American Civil Liberties Union today urged opposition to a bill that would effectively end prison employment programs in the country.

“The rationale behind this bill is faulty,” said Rachel King, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “Prison work programs do not displace jobs for regular Americans and prison contracts do not have an unfair advantage over private businesses. They do, however, provide real life work experience that helps inmates better reintegrate into society upon release.”

The legislation, called the Federal Prison Industries Competition Contracting Act of 2001 (HR 1577) and sponsored by Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-MI), is set for markup this morning before the full House Judiciary Committee.

It would, if passed, eliminate the requirement that a certain number of government contracts go to the Federal Prison Industries Corporation (FPI), the organization that coordinates paid prison employment programs.

Contrary to what its proponents say, the ACLU said that prison operations suffer an unfair competitive disadvantage; inmate employees are generally less skilled and undereducated, which requires far more supervision and ups production costs.

In response to the argument that prison work programs displace jobs for other Americans, the ACLU said that, in truth, inmate employment actually creates jobs across the country. A 1996 FPI sales analysis of office furniture made in prison concluded that the furniture sales resulted in more private sector jobs than would have been created if the products were produced outside of prison. The FPI actually injects resources into communities across America by purchasing supplies from 15,000 vendors, many of which are small businesses.

The FPI contracts are also key in reducing recidivism, easing inmates’ reentry into society after release and providing some measure of future prospects to unskilled and poorly educated inmates, the ACLU said. A comprehensive study of FPI participants showed that inmates who were employed in prison were more likely to be employed after release and earn a higher wage. They were also 24 percent less likely to reoffend.

“FPI programs provide real-life chances for some turnaround among America’s inmate population. Not only are they economical, they make good public sense,” King said. “It’s important that this bill not pass and the one provider of paid work in prison not disappear.”

The ACLU’s letter urging opposition to the bill can be found at:

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