2011-10-11 "Prison Labor — It’s Not Just For Farms Anymore" by Robin M.
When Alabama noticed there weren’t enough people available to work for next to nothing on the local farms after they passed the most restrictive anti-immigration law in the country, they decided to turn to the next best thing. Prison labor.
But rather than a desperate, last resort for getting work accomplished, using unpaid workforces from the local penitentiary is actually turning into a growing source for states hoping to cut overhead costs.
According to a New York Times column from earlier this year [http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/25/us/25inmates.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all], many states have dipped into the prison population to save on contracting out low skill jobs such as crop picking, landscaping and janitorial tasks. From scraping dead carcasses of animals off the highway to cleaning up graveyards, the local areas have found a myriad of uses for the jailed convicts, calling it a twofer of cutting government costs and making prisoners earn their “keep” while they are behind bars.
In the past, the jobs were mostly dirty, mundane, low skilled and away from the rest of the population. But maybe not for much longer. Think Progress reports [http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2011/10/11/340328/georgia-considers-replacing-firefighters-with-free-prison-laborers/] that Georgia is considering adding inmates on work release to the firefighting brigade, replacing two professional firefighters in each house with convicted criminals.
Responding to a fire is a job fraught with danger, one in which the whole team needs to be able to trust and rely on one another. Other firefighters are understandably apprehensive about training and working along side current prison inmates. But the Board of Commissioners, on the other hand, are quite taken with the $500,000 a year they would save in salaries and benefits.
Should the plan go into effect, it would likely open a new range of possible jobs that could be replaced with free prison labor, all in the guise of cutting government costs. Next it could be mail delivery, employees at the DMV or other government offices. Maybe eventually teachers?
Where would it really stop?