NCPA Expert Says Millions Of Unemployed Are Sitting Behind Bars

WASHINGTON, D.C. - It's time to put prison inmates to work. That was the message delivered today by Dr. Morgan Reynolds, director of the National Center for Policy Analysis' Criminal Justice Center during testimony before the House Subcommittee on Crime.

"Despite public consensus that prison inmates should be productively employed, most are idle because of protectionist politics and bureaucratic inertia, "Reynolds said.

Reynolds believes the lack of prison labor is the result of attacks by prison reformers, trade unionists and business owners who oppose the possibility of competition for prison-made goods. Consequently, a series of federal and state laws enacted over the years have made it increasingly difficult for either prison authorities or private firms to employ prisoners.

&guot;Competition is good," Reynolds said. "Our goal should be that all eligible inmates have access to regular constructive work. Private enterprise should be aggressively recruiting to become the principal employer behind federal bars."

Opening up markets for prison labor and goods could result in market frictions and occasional displacements, but Reynolds testified that the business advantages of a packaged set of reforms would easily offset those risks with new markets:

  • New opportunities to compete for prison labor with the allure of potential profits and the satisfaction of contributing to inmate rehabilitation and public safety.
  • New opportunities to compete for government contracts no longer reserved exclusively for correctional industries under mandatory purchase requirements.
  • New opportunities to compete for contracts to supply the new prison enterprises.

Reynolds proposed the repeal or relaxation of federal and state laws that impede the employment of prison labor and commerce in prison-made products.

"With that accomplished, access to productive work on a large scale would mean private enterprise would be supplying as much as six out of seven jobs, similar to the employment pattern in the U.S. economy."

In fact a study researched by Dr. Reynolds and published by the NCPA last year found that if one in four prisoners was put to work for private enterprise over the next five to 10 years, it would result in 400,000 new prison jobs. Allocating 60 percent of their earnings to taxpayer compensation could reduce taxpayer costs by $2.4 billion each year.

"Inmates should compete for employment opportunities and industry should compete for their labor." Reynolds said. "Instead of another bureaucratic prison program, commercial principles, especially performance, should apply wherever possible."