Prison Labor: Cost Effective or Costly?
Date:  01-06-2015

Investigation finds Washington State Correctional Industries cost taxpayers $20 million over past seven years
The premise behind prison labor is to save millions of dollars by having people in prison manufacture goods that corrections can sell at a hefty profit, thereby reducing the money taxpayers contribute to incarceration costs. An investigation by the Seattle Times blew holes in that premise when it discovered that Washington State's prison labor force failed to live up to many promises, including not harming the private sector and reduction of recidivism.

Broken Prison Labor Program Fails to Keep Promises, Costs Millions

By Michael J. Berens and Mike Baker Dec. 13, 2014

Three decades ago, as get-tough-on-crime laws channeled more offenders behind bars, the state Department of Corrections launched a campaign to leverage profits from prisoners.

Compel inmates to produce low-cost goods for state agencies at no public cost. Teach offenders new skills to help them land better jobs after release. Turn bad people into better people and reduce crime.

Washington’s pitch — crime can pay — was an easy public sell. Today, some 1,600 incarcerated men and women in prison factories produce everything from dorm furniture to school lunches. Washington Correctional Industries (CI) generates up to $70 million in sales a year, ranking as the nation’s fourth-largest prison labor program.

But behind CI’s glossy brochures and polished YouTube videos is a broken program that has cost taxpayers millions of dollars, charged exorbitant markups to state agencies to make up for losses, and taken jobs from private businesses that can’t compete with cheap prison labor, a Seattle Times investigation has found.

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