Posted: October 15, 2019 by Kelly Murphy-Redd

Jail Time and Economic Development
Work Programs Are Making a Difference

We have all seen alarming stories about early release of dangerous felons, overcrowding in our prisons, sanctuary cities that do not capture and detain people who come to this country illegally, etc. Controversy abounds and the effects are often detrimental to our society.

Prison work programs may be a story that is not only helpful to our society but a part of economic development today.

In 1979 the U.S. Department of Justice implemented the Prison Industry Enhancement Certification Program (PIECP) developed by Congress. This program allowed inmates to work for private companies. Private companies must submit to all necessary requirements and can then be exempt from federal restrictions regarding prisoner-made products.

A 2016 article by Connect Network, a site for families of inmates, cited the most recent Bureau of Justice Statistics census stating that 88% of the nation’s correctional facilities offer some kind of prison work program.

“In the traditional industry prison work programs (TI), inmates manufacture or service goods such as name plates, mattresses, desks, shelving, seating, bookcases and more. These items are sold to state, county and municipal offices, school districts, and nonprofit organizations. This hands-on work offers the inmate training on a specific skill that provides them with ways to return to society and contribute as well as earn a wage. While incarcerated, the working inmate offsets their cost of incarceration. They earn a small wage while creating a product that can be purchased at substantial savings by businesses and organizations.”

Connect Network goes on to say that taxpayers gain from this work because significant amounts of the inmate’s wage goes back to the state or county to cover the cost of room and board. The PIECP program also requires a percentage of wages to be saved. This helps the inmate when he or she is released and the inmate’s wages will circulate into the economy. They also say wages are used to provide child support or alimony and are used to pay restitution to crime victims.

Crime, a National Institute of Justice program, cites the 2005 Census of State and Federal Correctional Facilities finding that 85 percent of all reporting facilities offered formal educational programs to inmates. At least half of the facilities (52 percent) offered vocational training. But those facilities offering vocational training reported participation in the programs may be decreasing. It may be lack of interest or funding.

Crime goes on to say that the goal of vocational training is to reduce inmates’ risk of returning to prison by teaching them marketable skills they can use to find and keep a job after being released from prison. They say that keeping prisoners occupied instead of idle can reduce behavior problems while in prison. Some vocational training programs can help with operation of prisons by having inmates assist in maintenance tasks.

It has been reported that the Walton County Jail recently graduated five inmates from the jail’s heavy equipment program. Graduates were hired by local construction companies. The jail offers the heavy machinery program and welding courses. They have the help of local college professors and vocational instructors.

The jail receives grants that help pay for some of the costs of the programs and say they save money with the crops, to name one example. When asked, representatives say that court costs and room and board are costs not incurred when inmates do not return to prison.

Some may ask if tax dollars should go to help prisoners get jobs when they get out. Is this a handout? Some may think that there are more deserving people who need help. We have prisoners and probably always will. Isn’t it better for all of us if a practical solution is found to stop repeat offenders and keep them out of prison by being productive members of society?

People with jobs help the economy.