All Hail Private Enterprise, Except When......Layoffs Coming to Prison Labor?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008 at 09:28 AM

Turns out that the federal prison racket...sorry, the Federal Prison Industries (FPI), which operates under the brand name Unicor, is all a-tizzy over the audacity of congress in requiring that federal agencies put their contracts for office furniture and the like out to bid rather than giving their business solely to FPI.

Some relevant excerpts from the Federal Times story linked above:
The federal program that sells office furniture and other products made from prison labor expects to lose millions of dollars in sales because of a new law, officials told a House committee Tuesday. Federal Prison Industries (FPI), known by the brand name Unicor, has long been a mandatory source for federal purchases, but the 2008 Defense Authorization Act requires the Defense Department to put out for bid orders it previously would have placed with FPI.

In areas where Defense buys more than 5 percent of goods or services from FPI, it now must compare what FPI sells to what the private sector sells. If FPI doesn't offer the best quality, price and delivery time, Defense is required to open the purchase to a competition between FPI and the private sector.

As a result of these competition rules, FPI could lose at least $144 million in sales and 3,250 inmate jobs, Harley Lappin, director of the Bureau of Prisons, told the House Judiciary Committee on May 6. FPI took in about $850 million in 2007 and employed 23,000 inmates.

... The American Federation of Government Employees, which represents Bureau of Prisons corrections officers, estimates the situation will be much worse. FPI will lose $240 million in revenue and 6,500 prisoner jobs as a result of the competition requirement, said AFGE President John Gage.

Any loss of inmate jobs increases the idleness of the prison population, Gage said. "The increase in FPI prison inmate idleness and the associated increased risk of inmate assaults on federal correctional officers and staff would necessarily require a substantial increase in BoP [budget and staff]," Gage said.

About 1,300 more corrections officers at the cost of $100 million would be needed if 6,500 FPI inmate jobs were lost due to slumping sales, he said.

WTW has already discussed the rather absurd extent to which the USA now employs prison labor, not to mention the incredible growth in the prison population since the election of Ronnie "the Great Imprisoner" Reagan.

But I honestly never thought I'd write a piece about the government's horror at the idea that prison labor jobs might be lost to the private sector. Or on strong support of the union representing prison guards for prison industry monopolies as a means of protecting its membership from physical harm. Then again, I never thought that the US prison population would exceed one percent of all adults in the entire country.

And, of course, you gotta ask this, you just gotta: When was the last time that you saw this kind of investigation into, and attempt to prevent, layoffs in private enterprise? Did any major governmental group hunker down and try to seriously predict the labor consequences of the various laws we've passed making it soooo much easier to farm jobs out to other nations then import the end products back to this one? Did you hear this kind of wailing even when auto manufacturers announced layoffs so massive that they virtually ended the era of American auto manufacturers as major American employers?

Give me your, tired, give me your hungry, give me your huddled masses waiting for their prison release date.