I know the men and women alike in AZ prisons often prefer these work crews to other jobs, or to no job at all. But it disturbs me that no one seems appalled that our communities are eager to realize all kinds of benefits to incarceration that have nothing to do with lowering crime rates, and everything to do with savings/profit. That's one reason Israel prohibits privatization of prisons - because the profit motive is inherently at odds with protecting human rights. Besides, I do believe that exploiting prisoner labor doing public works like that deprives struggling young workers of such opportunities - some who might now end up committing crimes of desperation and going to prison. That's just plain stupid investing, if it's a community and not a company that's behind such a job market design.
Furthermore, if 93% of the state's prisoners are "violent and repeat offenders" (like how they lumped them into one category - that puts assailants and chronic check-bouncers in the same class of predator...) why are so many in minimum security going out into the community to work? They're all so dangerous that the ADC needs more beds and a bigger budget - and judges need to put people away longer - but they aren't so dangerous that they can't tend a municipal garden? That's doublespeak.
Why have a minimum security prison at all if you have a bunch of people there who will work, can be safe in the community, want to make amends and get on with their lives - and cost a lot of money to warehouse? The ADC could at least begin by abolishing those prisons...instead they're one of the few departments of corrections in the country planning to expand by over 100 prisoners a month. Everyone else is reforming sentencing laws, while Arizona is becoming more fascist. Director Ryan appears to be more of the same we had with Stewart - justifying modern-day convict-leasing. Nearly 10% of our state budget goes to that guy already...
Anyway, municipalities should be giving these folks jobs at decent wages BEFORE they end up as outsourced prisoners - especially struggling youth...
Doesn't anyone around here think outside the box?
Cash-strapped municipalities urged to turn to inmate labor
DOUGLAS - At 7:30 a.m. one recent morning, a group of 10 men was pouring concrete at a quiet corner on the northern edge of this border community.
Eight of the men earn just 50 cents an hour, allowing the cash-strapped city of Douglas to stretch its public-works dollars.
"It's an opportunity to get out and do some physical labor," said Anthony Perez, a 40-year-old Mesa resident serving a five-year sentence on burglary and drug charges. "It allows me to keep my mind focused on my future once I get out of here."
The benefits to cash-strapped municipalities as well as inmates are reasons Department of Corrections Director Charles Ryan is pushing to take the program to other communities coping with dwindling tax revenues.
The agency has about 1,500 inmates putting in more than 1.8 million hours of labor every year through more than 100 agreements with governmental bodies around Arizona. But with about 13,000 minimum-security inmates in state custody, Ryan said there's plenty of room to grow.
"Inmate labor, in our estimation, is an underutilized resource," he said.
All those hours of 50-cent labor add up to significant savings for cities.
"It represents a cost avoidance of $12.1 million," Ryan said.
Communities like Douglas have come to rely on the labor pool that inmates in nearby prisons provide.
Douglas sits on the Mexican border, about 50 miles west of New Mexico. Its economy struggled after the smelter closed in the late 1980s. City leaders had less revenue to work with.