Remember the old movies where convicts stamp out license plates. Well, that was then, and nowadays the United States has seen a recent increase in the number of private firm/correctional facility partnerships that uses prison labour to manufacture goods and provide services. On the rise since the creation of the Prison Industries Enhancement (PIE) program in 1979, prison-industry partnerships have risen 200 percent. Prison is a major industry: Currently, over 40 state and county-based certified correctional industry programs operate in the United States, and these programs manage at least 175 business partnerships with private industry.
Slave Labour or Smart Business? One hot issue for the heartland industries of the country is that this practice takes away business from them, the traditional manufacturers, because some companies get government contracts that include cheap available labour that has no choice but to work. Is this America’s version of slave labour and is it fair to businesses who don’t have access to this labour pool?
The Gimmee: License Plates
This one is not surprising. Convicts still stamp out plates in many prisons, which is a lock in states such as Maryland, where the penal system has the exclusive rights for license plate manufacturing.
Furniture production in jail factories covers wood and metal residential furniture, barbeque grills, park benches, casegoods, parks and recreational equipment as well as refurbishing of antiques. One company manages over 18,500 acres of USA southern pine forest land at the Union Correctional Institution. Every phase of lumber production is handled by this operation, from harvest to sawmill to distribution. Lumber is cut for use as guardrails, tables, fence post, docks, ramps, decks and gazebos.
9. Ladies Undergarments
All sorts of clothes and sewn goods are made in jails, from boxers to teddies and anything in between. In Japan, one prisoner has had particular success as a clothing designer, all while still behind bars. His brand, Marugoku, from Hakodate Juvenile Prison, is the first line of prison-made products to be trademarked, and its latest product was sold out within minutes of going on-line to the company’s catalog. Your favorite piece of clothing, sure, it could have been made in jail.
8. Brooms and Brushes
From toilet bowl brushes to floor brushes to hair brushes, the prison plant is pumping out a lot of them. Good metaphor for sweeping away the past for the prisoners – but that is just far too corny.
7. Digital, Data and Call Centre Services
Jails routinely provide services for digital document imaging, data entry, document storage and management, printing and graphics, call centres and office services. About a dozen states — Oregon, Arizona, California and Iowa, among others — and many foreign nations have call centers in state and federal prisons. Who knows, maybe next time your call wont be picked up by someone in India, could be a dude doing 5-10 and just happy to talk to you.
6. Processed Meats
From the raw carcass to the finished consumer product, these jails do it all. Next time you go to the deli, make a sandwich or cook up some frozen wings, they could have been processed in the prison system. Let’s hope that there are no bad deals going down anywhere close by; we’ve all seen way too many movies to think anything other than: hardened criminals and a meat packing plant, just not a good combination.
5. Prescription Eyeglasses
PRIDE, a manufacturer in Florida using prison labour, has an optical lab located in the Florida Department of Correction’s Broward Correctional Institution for Women. They are the only state approved Optical Apprenticeship Program in Florida and produce about 100,000 pairs of glasses a year, with prices starting at $14.95/pair.
4. Household Chemical Products
Products such as laundry detergent, bathroom cleansers, glass polish, floor wax etc are produced in good volumes through the prison system. It is hard to find out where it goes, whether commercial or retail or to who, but somebody is certainly buying it. Companies even offer private label packaging and branding program support for customers. Again with too many bad crime movies, but chemicals and prisoner access just seems a bit off.
The companies who employ prison labour for making dentures and other dental appliances are members of the National Association of Dental Laboratories, so they must have their workers properly trained to do the job. This may actually give a skill that could be used on the outside and keep prisoners from re-offending.
2. Heavy Vehicle Refits / Renovation
One company began specializing in emergency vehicle renovation. The Industry has expanded for jailhouse production into the areas of custom building command and control, SWAT, and other types of specialty vehicles for Emergency Services and Law Enforcement uses. Customers who have had heavy vehicle modifications done by an operation in prison include:
- SWAT Units, Negotiation Command Centers
- Evidence and Crime Scene Collection Units, Bomb Squad Units
- K9 Transport Units, Breath Analysis laboratory/Detention Vehicles
- Command, Control, and Communication Vehicles, Government On Wheels/Community Outreach
- Mobile Clinics, Weather On Wheels Vehicles
- Mobile Surgery Units, Prisoner Transport Vehicles
1. Kevlar Bulletproof Vests
Two views, two incentives for production…If you really do get rehabilitated, then this will provide a valuable production skill that can be taken out to private business when you start your new life. If not, well heck, the vest that you made might just save your life one day.
Companies Who Use Prison Production
MicroJet, Nike, Lockhart Technologies, Inc., United Vision Group, Chatleff Controls, TWA, Dell Computers, Microsoft, Eddie Bauer, Planet Hollywood, Redwood Outdoors, Wilson Sporting Goods, Union Bay, Elliot Bay, A&I Manufacturing, Washington Marketing Group, Omega Pacific, J.C. Penney, Victoria’s Secret, Best Western Hotels, Honda, K-Mart, Target, Kwalu, Inc., McDonald’s, Hawaiian Tropical Products, Burger King, “Prison Blues” jeans line, New York, New York Hotel/Casino, Impereal Palace Hotel/Casino, Crisp Country Solid Waste Management Authority, “No Fear” Clothing Line, C.M.T. Blues, Konica, Allstate, Merrill Lynch, Shearson Lehman, Louisiana Pacific, Parke-Davis, Upjohn, Heinz-Wattie, Living Earth Co., Gala Gardens, Layton’s Linen Hire, Morro Holdings, Encore Tech., Peek Displays, New Zealand Post, Ideal Print, Royal (NZ) Foundation for the Blind, Packaging Specialists, Taylor’s Group, Cortex Group, Premier Bin and Pallet Supplies, Price McClaren, Stages, Larson’s Concrete and Drainage, Calix Nursery, Garden City Composting, Southern Seeds Tech., Christchurch City Council. Fresh Direct, Fergusson Services