Correctional Officers and Rights Advocates Agree; Employment for Prisoners Protects Public Safety

July 25, 2003 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON, DC- A diverse coalition of correctional officers and prisoners’ rights advocates today urged Congress to oppose legislation that would damage federal prison inmate labor programs. The bill, HR 1829, scheduled for mark up in the House Judiciary Committee today, would threaten public safety and impede federal prisoners’ rehabilitation.

“”Federal Prison Industries is the largest rehabilitative program within the federal Bureau of Prisons and teaches 20,000 prisoners responsibility and skills,”” said Phil Glover, president of the Council of Prison Locals. “”Passing legislation that will ultimately eliminate thousands of productive jobs for prisoners jeopardizes prison security and the safety of staff and prisoners.””

The coalition pushing the House Judiciary Committee to vote no on H.R. 1829, the Federal Prison Industries Competition in Contracting Act, includes the American Civil Liberties Union, National Citizens United for Rehabilitation of Errants and the Council of Prison Locals, American Federation of Government Employees. The organizations represent a diversity of viewpoints on corrections but all agree that preserving prisoner employment will reduce recidivism and promote safety.

The bill, introduced in April of this year, ends the prison program’s mandatory preference when seeking contracts to make goods and creates restrictions on the types of work prisoners may engage in. It authorizes alternative programming for federal prisoners but the appropriation of funds for these programs is unlikely to materialize.

“”A former prisoner’s ability to gain employment is one of two factors associated with a substantial decrease in recidivism,”” said Elizabeth Alexander, director of the ACLU’s National Prison Project. “”Unfortunately, one year after release, up to 60 percent of these men and women are unemployed. Prison industry programs for those who are incarcerated provide invaluable employment experiences that can reshape lives. Congress should authorize more vocational training and employment opportunities in prison, not less.””

“”Employment in prisons promotes self-confidence, provides critical experience and prepares prisoners for their lives on the outside,”” added Marvin Johnson, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “”We recognize the need for reforms, but this bill unfairly restricts prison industry options. Congress would be taking away the few opportunities that federal prisoners have to make an honest wage.””

The ACLU’s letter on HR 1829 can be seen at:

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