You Probably Had No Idea, But These 11 Products Are Made by Prisoners
In 1979, Congress created the Prison Industry Enhancement Certification Program (known as PIE) to establish employment opportunities for inmates “that approximate private sector work opportunities”. Sounds like a great idea right? In reality, the scheme has been used to extract as much profit as possible from prison labor, and undermine the wages and working conditions across a number of industries.
In a 2012 expose by Truthout, a female prisoner at Arizona’s state prison Perryville unit described her day working as a laborer for a private company called Martori Farms.
“They wake us up between 2.30 and 3am and kick us out of our housing unit by 3.30am. We get fed at 4am. Our work supervisors show up between 5am and 8am. Then it’s an hour to a one-and-a-half-hour drive to the job site. Then we work eight hours, regardless of conditions … We work in the fields hoeing weeds and thinning plants …
“Currently, we are forced to work in the blazing sun for eight hours. We run out of water several times a day. We ran out of sunscreen several times a week. They don’t check medical backgrounds or ages before they pull women for these jobs. Many of us cannot do it! If we stop working and sit on the bus or even just take an unauthorized break, we get a major ticket which takes away our ‘good time’.”
Here are some of the every day products that are produced through the forced labor of prisoners.
1. Books for the Blind
There are 36 prison Braille-writing programs in the US. Offenders help write K-12 textbooks for blind students, through the American Printing House for the Blind. 102 convicts are employed by the Center for Braille and Narration Production in Missouri, many whom are certified through the Library of Congress. They transcribe anything, from novels to music.
2. Park Benches and Picnic Tables
In Florida, PRIDE (Prison Rehabilitative Industries and Diversified Enterprises) trains about 4000 inmates, who produce and provide over 3000 products and services. PRIDE’s forestry service makes park furniture like picnic tables, park benches, and wooden trashcan holders. Sixty-nine percent of PRIDE graduates land jobs after jail.
3. Military Jackets and Battle Garb
Federal Prison Industries, better known as UNICOR, consists entirely of convicts working at 89 factories. Together, they help clothe the United States military, making jackets, uniforms, helmets, shoes, and even flak vests. For police officers, they craft body armor and holsters.
What was Victoria’s Secret? Well in the 90′s, the famous lingerie firm and J. C. Penney had prisoners stitching together their lingerie and leisure wear.
5. Old IKEA Products
From the 1970s to 1980s, political prisoners in Cold War-struck East Germany made products for the furniture company IKEA. The prisoners were reportedly paid 40 East German marks per month, about 4 percent of the monthly salary of the average East German worker.
6. Human Silhouette Targets
Ironically, convicts at UNICOR also make human silhouette targets for law enforcer training. The shadowy targets help crime fighters in the FBI, Homeland Security, and U.S. Customs hone their aims.
Colorado Correction Industries oversees approximately 60 inmate work programs. Jailbirds at Fremont County Jail, for example, build fiberglass-sealed canoes. They use scraps from the prison’s furniture shop and sell the canoes for around $1500. Other Colorado programs help craft those ubiquitous college dormitory desks and bookshelves.
8. Artsy Knick Knacks
San Quentin State Prison in California is a scary place. It houses some of the most menacing criminals in the nation, and it’s home to the largest death row in the United States. But at least it has a gift shop. There, you can buy convict-made music boxes, drawings, and paintings. You can even get yourself a greeting card made by one of death row’s own.
9. Blue Jeans
The Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution is home to a 47,000 square foot facility: The Prison Blues Jeans Factory. It makes jeans, jackets, T-shirts, and hats, which you can check out here.
10. Baseball Caps
Few things are as American as the baseball cap and free enterprise. Yet, ball caps are the result of prison labor under UNICOR.
In Colorado, the Wild Horses Inmate Program (WHIP) trains wild mustangs, prepping them for adoption. Since 1986, the program has trained over 5000 mustangs. In Maryland, Second Chances Farm takes in retired thoroughbred racehorses. It rescues the out-of-work horses from the slaughterhouse and teaches outgoing inmates animal caretaking skills.
All of these jobs could be taken by regular employees with decent pay, terms and conditions , or they could go to prisoners on decent pay, terms and conditions – but either way, UNICOR and others would make far less profit. So instead, government after government is lobbied, successfully, to maintain the status quo.