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UNICOR Questioned-Updated

Over the weekend, the editorial board of The Daily Sentinel (Scottsboro, AL) published an op-ed concerning UNICOR (Federal Prison Industries, FPI) being awarded a contract to produce clothing for the military, highlighting the oft-debated use of prison labor at the cost of private sector jobs:

Government never ceases to amaze.
An Associated Press story earlier this week that likely drew little notice from the average citizen points out again the absurdity of some government programs.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons has secured a contract to make military clothing through the Federal Prison Industries system. The move effectively cost 260 people their jobs in Alabama and Mississippi and thus the ability to provide for their families.
Earlier in the year American Apparel closed its Fort Deposit plant putting 175 people out of work because it lost military contracts.
The Federal Prison Industries cannot sell inmate produced products to private companies, but it can sell to government agencies. The law that created the industries requires other federal agencies to buy inmate-made items even if they are more expensive than similar items made by private companies.
The program is called UNICOR.
Its mission statement reads: “It is the mission of (FPI) to employ and provide job skills training to the greatest practicable number of inmates confined within the ; contribute to the safety and security of our Nation’s federal correctional facilities by keeping inmates constructively occupied; provide market-quality products and services; operate in a self-sustaining manner; and minimize FPI’s impact on private business and labor.”
The service produces products from clothing, bed linens and mattresses to electronics and components, industrial products and storage solutions and office furniture.
How flawed is this line of thinking?
It’s crazy. Jobs are hard to come by yet the federal government is taking employment away from the citizens who foot the bills and passing the work on to prisoners. Taxpayers will now have to quickly find other jobs or will be in the unemployment line, collecting unemployment compensation and other aid. The law-abiding citizens that were earning an honest living haver been replaced by those convicted of breaking the laws of our nation.
It seems our priorities are in the wrong place. Sure, prisoners should work. They shouldn’t be able to lounge around and do nothing. But, the citizens who pay to operate the prison system should not lose jobs.
Among the reasons cited to buying from UNICOR is: “Quality products and services, supporting domestic jobs and our nations economy.”
In the same breath UNICOR claims the products are made in America. They are. At the expense of what?
The answer is simple – jobs for American taxpayers.
Granted, prisoners should work for their own subsistence. Let them raise food, clean, repair and maintain their own quarters and anything else necessary to run the prison effectively without endangering the prison staff, visitors or the public.
Take the expensive exercise equipment and weights away, cut back on television and game time.
Educate prisoners. Some can hit the books and others may find a trade if it helps to run the prison system and reduce costs. The bottom line is that UNICOR should not be allowed to take jobs away from the general public.
Update:  American Power Source, a clothing manufacturer, “announcedthat it would layoff 50 workers at its Fayette and Columbus, Mississippi factories” due to losing an award to make clothing for the Air Force to Federal Prison Industries.