Every year, the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) inmate work program UNICOR produces millions of dollars worth of made-in-America products like clothing, eye wear, license plates, furniture and other services. The program helps to rehabilitate inmates serving time, giving them valuable job and life skills to prepare them for life on the outside.
So why is Federal Prison Industries (FPI) planning to shut down more than 25 factories across the country? According to Gary Simpson, the Assistant Director of Industries, Education and Vocational Training Division of BOP, the program isn't earning enough money to continue, and keeping the struggling factories open hurts the company's mission of training and rehabilitating inmates.
But by shuttering the factories, FPI not only jeopardizes the jobs of staff, but the work placements and vocational trainings for thousands of inmates – trainings that curb recidivism and leave inmates with marketable skills after they've served their time.
"In my mind, the goal of the federal prisons is rehabilitation, prevention of recidivism, and skilled training to accomplish those goals," said Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski in a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch.
The BOP agrees – according to the Bureau, inmates who work in FPI programs are 24% less likely to return to prison than non-program participants. These inmates are also 14% more likely to be gainfully employed upon their release, because of the skills they learned through FPI. Most importantly, these jobs keep inmates occupied and productive, reducing the risk of assault on correctional workers.
As part of the larger criminal justice ecosystem, the program actually saves taxpayers money by reducing recidivism and the costs associated with inmates re-offending. Eric Young, President of the CPL, praised the program's positive impact on inmates, noting that UNICOR not only teaches important skills for future employment, but keeps inmates busy and occupied, and out of trouble.
"The purpose of the UNICOR program – and the mission of the BOP – is rehabilitation above all else, and ensuring that inmates who serve their time are prepared to re-enter society as reformed, valuable community members," Young said. "The fewer inmates who return to prison, the safer our prisons are for inmates and correctional workers. Closing these factories is irresponsible, and makes correctional workers' jobs even more difficult.