Budget Problems? Just Use Prison Labor  

Posted by Big Gav

Cryptogon points to an NYT article on American efforts to use the world's largest prison population as a source of cheap labour - Budget Problems? Just Use Prison Labor.

The New York Times outdoes itself with this one. “Financial experts agree.” Oh sure.

See, Land Of The Free: Never In The Civilized World Have So Many Been Locked Up For So Little, for a bit of context.

Via: New York Times:

Before he went to jail, Danny Ivey had barely seen a backyard garden.

But here he was, two years left on his sentence for grand theft, bent over in a field, snapping wide, green collard leaves from their stems. For the rest of the week, Mr. Ivey and his fellow inmates would be eating the greens he picked, and the State of Florida would be saving most of the $2.29 a day it allots for their meals.

Prison labor — making license plates, picking up litter — is nothing new, and nearly all states have such programs. But these days, officials are expanding the practice to combat cuts in federal financing and dwindling tax revenue, using prisoners to paint vehicles, clean courthouses, sweep campsites and perform many other services done before the recession by private contractors or government employees.

In New Jersey, inmates on roadkill patrol clean deer carcasses from highways. Georgia inmates tend municipal graveyards. In Ohio, they paint their own cells. In California, prison officials hope to expand existing programs, including one in which wet-suit-clad inmates repair leaky public water tanks. There are no figures on how many prisoners have been enrolled in new or expanded programs nationwide, but experts in criminal justice have taken note of the increase.

“There’s special urgency in prisons these days,” said Martin F. Horn, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a former commissioner of the New York City Department of Correction. “As state budgets get constricted, the public is looking for ways to offset the cost of imprisonment.”

Although inmate labor is helping budgets in many corners of state government, the savings are the largest in corrections departments themselves, which have cut billions of dollars in recent years and are under constant pressure to reduce the roughly $29,000 a year that it costs to incarcerate the average inmate in the United States.

Senator John Ensign, Republican of Nevada, introduced a bill last month to require all low-security prisoners to work 50 hours a week. Creating a national prison labor force has been a goal since he went to Congress in 1995, but it makes even more sense in this economy, he said.

“Think about how much it costs to incarcerate someone,” Mr. Ensign said. “Do we want them just sitting in prison, lifting weights, becoming violent and thinking about the next crime? Or do we want them having a little purpose in life and learning a skill?”

Financial experts agree.


You get the feeling they haven't really thought this through (or maybe they have?).

My vague poorly remembered history recalls that the first settlers to Oz were sometimes (we are told) incarcerated for such dastardly crimes as stealing a loaf of bread to feed the family.

Surely the prison work force has got to be one of the most expensive for low skilled jobs... and what is its effect going to be on the low skilled job market?

My guess is that low skilled workers are going to be competing at a disadvantage with this 'state subsidized' work force AND SOME WILL probably turn to crime as a result thus expanding the 'criminal' population, further decreasing the tax revenue and increasing the financial burden.

Obviously the private owners of these prison work farms won't mind. They probably vote republican!

Of course once skilled workers get caught up in the system some prisons will incorporate and upgrade their services - perhaps offering financial and tax advice or web design and content provision. ;-)

There will be flurry of IPOs for hot prison stock.

Later, the rusting hulks of the US fleet can used to store the excess low skilled prisoners...?

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