Black Labor, white Profit

So inmates provide low cost labor for state and private enterprise, and jobs and federal dollars for upstate communities, while the process destroys Black communities and produces more inmates.

[National News: On Prisons]

Products manufactured in New York State prisons include a wide variety of office furnishings, such as mesh, upholstered, plastic and metal chairs and sofas, metal bookcases and lockers, video/VCR cabinets, dressers, telephones, storage and wardrobe units, metal waste receptacles for both indoor and street use, as well as custom-engraved plaques, awards, clocks and desktop items.

One prison brochure features classroom desks and chairs with the requisite red apple and declares in bold print ‘’for all your CLASSROOM/EDUCATIONAL needs!’’

All these items are offered for sale by Corcraft Products, the Division of Industries.

The NYS Department of Correctional Services (NYS DOCS) has many opportunities for inmate ‘‘employment’’ across the state. DOCS TODAY, a monthly publication of the NYC Department of Correctional Services, regularly publishes information regarding these programs.

Puppies Behind Bars is a program in Bedford Hills, Fishkill and Mid-Orange Correctional Facilities. Started in 1997, the program began with inmates training guide dogs for the blind.

In 2003, the program was expanded to include training dogs ‘‘to serve as explosive sniffing dogs for the NYPD Bomb Squad and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.’’ Dogs from Puppies Behind Bars are in Los Angeles, North Carolina, South Africa, Malaysia, Egypt and Italy.

Wyoming Correctional Institution, located next to Attica, boasts of ‘’various vocational and other programs aimed at providing inmates with the skills they need to find a job when they return to society.’’ The Wyoming Prison Farm produces milk, butter and beef that is distributed to 11 facilities at a ‘’substantial savings for state taxpayers.’’ Wyoming offers training in installation and repair of air-conditioning and refrigeration units, auto mechanics, building and custodial maintenance, drafting and blueprint reading, and electrical trades. In the computer repair program, inmates learn about basic electronics, computer hardware and software peripherals. Inmates, however, don’t have any modem or Internet access.

The Oneida Food Production Center employs a workforce of 110 inmates and provides three meals a day to all 66,000 inmates in each of the state’s 70 facilities. Oneida has brought the cost of three meals a day per inmate down to $2.10 from an average of $2.24. County jail administrators, whose daily cost of feeding inmates three meals a day sometimes runs about $4.00, have reportedly contacted Oneida regarding the possibility of purchasing meals. As a result of working in the Food Center, ‘‘several parolees have since found jobs at similar facilities throughout the state.’’

Moriah’s Shock Incarceration Program takes a paramilitary approach. The boot camp-like program organizes inmates into community service crews that ‘’provided over 113,000 hours of community service work in municipalities in the counties of Essex, Warren and Clinton in 2002.’’ One of that year’s projects had inmates from Moriah and Adirondack working together to ‘’complete a dam restoration project for the upstate waterway that provides water to both Adirondack and the neighboring Ray Brook Federal Correctional Institution.’’

There are programs in every NYS prison that employ inmates in preparation for return to their communities as productive citizens.

Who really benefits-the correctional union, the inmates, the public?

State Senator Velmanette Montgomery says the issue is complex. Inmates earn an hourly wage of between 12 cents to 90 cents an hour. According to Montgomery, private industry cannot compete with prison-manufactured products because of the disparity between the federal minimum wage and prison wages.

Two types of operations with demand in African-American communities are barber shops and hairdresser salons. While incarcerated, inmates are trained in cosmetology and they provide services to fellow inmates. When they are released back to their communities, Senator Montgomery says too many of her constituents cannot get a cosmetology license because of state licensing rules.

Montgomery introduced S-820, a bill that would release more cosmetology licenses to the formerly incarcerated. Governor Eliot Spitzer vetoed Montgomery’s bill. His reason is that the NY Department of State, which issues the licenses, says it already gives these licenses to people involved in re-entry to their communities. According to Montgomery, not enough cosmetology licenses are granted to the formerly incarcerated.

Montgomery is involved in reform issues impacting the criminal justice system, including repealing the Rockefeller Drug laws (with its harsh long sentences even for relatively minor drug offenses), paying a sustainable living wage, non-traditional training for individuals receiving public assistance, adjusting the designation of a Level 1 sex offenders who are not likely to re-offend, making it illegal for colleges to ban the applications of formerly incarcerated individuals solely because of their incarceration, expanding alternative to incarceration programs, and a re-entry employment incentive tax credit.

Upstate prisons provide numerous correctional union jobs and other services at the expense of NYC residents who are disproportionately sentenced to these facilities. These upstate communities also receive the federal dollars that should go to the inmate’s community, but instead are sent to these upstate communities because that’s where the census bureau says they live.

So inmates provide low cost labor for state and private enterprise, and jobs and federal dollars for upstate communities, while the process destroys Black communities and produces more inmates.  


To comment or to subscribe to or advertise in New York’s leading Pan African weekly investigative newspaper, or to send us a news tip, please call (212) 481-7745 or send a note to
[email protected]


Also visit out sister publications Harlem Business News and The Groove music magazine at


“Speaking Truth To Empower.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *