Drug War Prisoners





By Richard J. Lester 87315-011, FCI Sheridan: May, 2000

In a tight labor market the squeeze is on. While private industry goes begging to fill menial positions at minimum wage, there is an adequate supply of man power waiting in line to work, and not for minimum wage either. Indeed, these men and women will work for almost nothing and wait in many cases over a year to be employed by the one and only captive enterprise available to put their idle hands to work.

How can that be, men and women waiting in line for a job that pays far less than minimum wage for over a year, while the rest of the market can't find able-bodied people? Who are they?

Simply, they are prisoners of the United States government, most serving long sentences for drug-related crimes, non-violent prisoners caught up in the mandatory minimum sentencing mess enacted by the US Congress.

  UNICOR, this slave market of human misery, employs those it holds captive for anywhere from a low of 12 cents an hour to a dollar on the high side. This federally operated industry is unique in that it produces and markets some 121 different products, from gloves for work to the desks you will find in any government office. There are more items that hurt the private sector than you might imagine.
  Let me give you an example. There is a cluster prison in Sheridan, Oregon. Here the UNICOR facility produces soft and hard furniture, and satellite operations manufacture various wood products. One is the toy shop. They make and give away items for deserving children. No problem there, you say. I agree, but there's another side to the coin.
  About a year ago, a local cabinet maker bid on a contract extended by the local school board. An elementary school had burned to the ground, and taxpayer funds were available to rebuild from scratch. To the best of my knowledge, the local cabinet maker priced and submitted a very competitive bid.
  In the meantime, a prison employee heard about the contract and contacted the school board and offered to help. Nothing wrong with that either, you say.
  Well, using material provided by the school district, the carpentry shop at FCI Sheridan built at no cost to the school district cabinets valued at over 100,000 dollars. Great for the school system and the taxpayers right?
  That's nonsense in a free market society. How can a little cabinet maker compete for business and pay his hired help at the going wage, when the prison pays its prisoners 12 cents an hour for the same work?
  This is one case. During the coming months I will enlighten you web site viewers with stories about what is happening in America that will bedazzle the very sense out of you.


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