Private Businesses Putting Prison Inmates to Work

Washington, D.C. -- More than half of all Americans favor private companies putting prisoners to work according to a new survey released today. The Luntz Research poll found that 56 percent of those surveyed support private companies employing prisoners and don't believe that prisoners will take jobs away from honest citizens looking for work.

When asked if they would support a business from their own community employing prisoners inside their own state, support rose to 63 percent. In addition, 46 percent of those polled said they would prefer that a repeat burglar spend time in prison preparing to hold a job upon release, instead of simply receiving a stiff punishment and long sentence.

At a press conference this morning to present the survey's findings, Congressman Bill McCollum of Florida, Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Crime, said, "prison industries can play a key role in lowering the risk that prisoners will commit new crimes once they are released. Given the growth in the prison population, we must find ways to give more inmates the opportunity to participate in these programs."

This survey was commissioned by the National Center for Policy Analysis, The Enterprise Prison Institute, The Criminal Justice Policy Foundation and The Workman's Fund. This is the first-ever national survey designed to measure public sentiment on businesses employing prisoners.

American Public Opinion:
Prison Inmates Working for Private Companies

A national survey of 1,005 adults completed by the Luntz Research Companies April 29 through May 1, 1998 (+/- 3.1%)

Consider a 24-year-old convicted a third time for burglary after failing probation and parole. Which is more important to you?

  1. 33.5% That he receive a stiff punishment and a long sentence. 
  2. 46.1% That he spend his time in prison learning an employable skill, getting a high school diploma and taking vocational courses so that he is ready to hold a job when he gets out.
  3. 15.7% Both equally important 
  4. 4.7% Don't Know/Refused 

In many states private businesses can set up operations inside prisons and employ prisoners full time without using any tax dollars. Prisoners are paid at least minimum wage and up to 80 percent of these wages come back to the state for taxes, room and board, court costs and victim restitution. Which view about prisoners working for private companies is closest to yours?

  1. 56.1% I like it because they can learn new job skills and pay part of their prison costs while behind bars.
  2. 32.1% I do not like it because they might take jobs away from law abiding citizens looking for work. 
  3. 6.6% Neither
  4. 5.2% Don't Know/Refused

Please listen to the following statement. "If a business from my community wants to set up an operation inside my state's prison because it can't find enough employees in my area, I would support it because my community would not lose jobs or economic development to prisoners." Do you:

  1. 28.5% Strongly agree
  2. 34.0% Somewhat agree
  3. 15.2% Somewhat disagree
  4. 17.9% Strongly disagree 
  5. 4.4%  Don't know/Refused