Oregon is leading the charge in more than just gay marriage. We’re also helping to keep jobs from going overseas. How? My unemployed friends are still unemployed, you may wonder. Well, your prison friends aren’t! Rather than moving call centers overseas, we’re contracting out prison workers to answer phone calls. I wonder what happens if they violate the DNC list…they’re already in jail. Cheap labor, less turnover. That sounds like a win to me. As long as it’s completely optional…leave the quilt-making to the ‘retirement’ homes, eh? One objection is that they aren’t learning a skill that will be applicable on the ‘outside’ unless they go overseas or back to prison. But my thought is that they are learning skills and discipline (some probably need it, at least!) so as long as it’s is compensated and optional, that’s great. But it needs to be treated like a job.

  • http://roguepundit.typepad.com/roguepundit/ Gordie

    Unicor (http://www.unicor.gov/) is the name of the Federal prison industry…it’s a huge undertaking that is a growth industry (prison populations certainly aren’t shrinking). According to the letter of the law, they’re allowed to provide/manufacture goods and services which don’t compete with U.S. industry…and that can be a contentious determination. Call centers are a relatively recent experiment (started in late 90s).

    Every year, Congress has rancorous debates on what should be included and excepted from the list of things Unicor can do…it gets little publicity, but I had to work with it some when I was in the AF (the military is forced by law to be a customer of theirs, even if it has major concerns about product quality…like with prison furniture and cubicles). Unicor almost always can win on price, but guess what happens if a key prison has a lock-down for awhile…things like the AF having an empty new building because UNICOR blew the furniture delivery date. Congress and UNICOR have never figured out how to properly enforce delivery dates, warranties, etc.

    Unicor’s great argument for being allowed to compete some is that a busy prisoner is a happier prisoner who gets into less trouble and learns job skills for his/her eventual release (if applicable). Supposedly, prison call center computers are very limited so that folks can’t get to certain types of personal or corporate information, surf the web, etc.

    The law states that prisoners have to be paid for their work, and the rates have to be somewhat commensurate to what they might earn on the outside for such work. I’ve never heard of a UNICOR prisoner earning as anywhere near the $0.12/hour the article cites. Note that if prisoners owe their victims money, most of the money they earn goes toward such renumeration.

    If we’re going to keep expanding prison populations (I’m not into violent criminals walking amongst us), then we ought to keep them as productively busy as possible. But that’s a lot easier said than done.