NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


July 9, 2004

About a dozen states -- Oregon, Arizona, California and Iowa, among others -- have call centers in state and federal prisons, underscoring a push to employ inmates in telemarketing jobs that might otherwise go to low-wage countries overseas.

Today, Arizona prisoners make business calls, as do inmates in Oklahoma. In Oregon, a call center for the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) is run out of an all-female prison. Other companies are keeping manufacturing jobs in the United States. For instance, more than 150 inmates in Virginia federal prison build car parts for Delco Remy International.

  • The number of inmates working is growing, with at least 2,000 inmates nationwide work in call centers.
  • About 3.5 percent of the 2.1 million prisoners in the United States produced goods and services worth an estimated $1.5 billion in 2002.

Inmates are paid about $120 or $185 a month and for many it's their first job and a diversion from prison life. It also teaches them skills and brings self-esteem. Anecdotally, very few inmates have quit their jobs. Some work programs are actually associated with reduced recidivism, the frequency in which released prisoners violate the law and wind up back in jail.

There remains a stigma in using prison labor, given some of the problems that have plagued such enterprising firms in the past. Though there are security risks, steps such as recording phone calls, have inmates talk to businesses rather than consumers, and screening job applicants for convictions of identity theft have mitigated those concerns.

Source: Jon Swartz, "Inmates vs. Outsourcing," USA Today, July 7, 2004.

For text


Browse more articles on Government Issues