Articles Posted in UNICOR

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So, the federal government has shutdown. What does that mean for federal prisoners? On Monday, the Department of Justice announced its contingency plan:

Bureau of Prisons: All staff at the Federal prisons, including Public Health Service Officers necessary to provide medical care of inmates, are considered excepted since they have direct daily inmate custody responsibilities. Employees are also needed to continue inmate custody responsibilities over some 38,700 inmates in contract facilities and process all new designations to federal prisons from the Courts. Regional and headquarters support will be maintained only to the extent necessary to support excepted operations. BOP’s Buildings and Facilities, Prison Industries and Commissary accounts have multi-year authority and should have adequate carry over funding to meet expenses during a lapse in appropriations.

What does this mean? First, while the Regional Offices and Central Office reportedly have skeleton staffs, federal correctional institutions are at (or near) full operating strength. However, even though prison personnel are expected to show for work (and will not be paid for days they don’t work), their pay will likely be delayed, perhaps for the duration of the shutdown. Said differently, BOP personnel, as Executive Branch employees, are working for IOUs.

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Mohamed Huque, author of “Made In Prison: The Rise of America’s New Labour Class,” has given an interview in which he discusses the use of a federal prisoner workforce:


Let’s start at the beginning, Mohamed. Why is prison labor a bad thing? Shouldn’t the prisoners be doing something constructive with their time? What constitutes exploitation and how do we draw the line?
I don’t believe prison labour is inherently a bad thing. Those serving time behind bars should be given an opportunity to learn valuable skills, gain work experience, meet financial obligations, and potentially leave prison with a small amount saved to restart their lives. This was the intended purpose behind prison work programs and I can fully support that. However, it becomes problematic when inmates are subjected to abusive and unsafe work conditions, when inmates are hired to replace union and public sector workers, and most importantly when they are not given fair wages equivalent to non-inmates in the same locality. This is when it becomes exploitative.
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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.