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When anyone, man or woman, commits a crime, it is the job of our legal system to appropriately penalize the criminal and the result should be due justice. The function of putting a criminal on trial is not only to receive justice but in the process, the offender is stripped of many social rights that are obtained by the average citizen. Clearly locked away at a facility as punishment, it would seem only natural that their stay would be minimally hospitable. This is not necessarily the case and it has gotten many people upset. A large goal of incarceration would be to rehabilitate the criminal to the point where they will have a lesson learned and once again be able to handle themselves in a sociably acceptable manner upon release back into the community. An issue at many of the prisons and jails that criminals are being sent to is the fact that criminals are allowed too many luxuries within the institution. This causes fear that prisoners will not walk away with a new perspective on their prior behavior. Prisoners are deserving of reform programs, not entertainment at the tax payers expense. They are provided with leisurely activities such as access to music, television, sports and arts and crafts. Some would argue that it is unfair that prisoners are given the opportunity to receive an education or learn a specific trade. It is seen as unfair since not even all law abiding citizens are given the same opportunity for free. Whether fair or not, it is opportunities such as furthering education and providing prison work programs that will be most beneficial towards instilling the proper values into the inmate and make them most productive upon release. Prison work programs have been used for decades. They provide cheap labor to facilities or companies in need while at the same time the inmates have a sense of purpose while still under supervision. The use of these work programs offset a variety of many other benefits that are able to positively affect the state, the inmates, and society. So although there have been negative issues with the use of prisoner work programs in the past, there are still those out there, including many prisoners themselves, that will agree it is the work programs that provide the best possibility for behavior reformation.
Dating back to 11th, 12th and 13th century England, work programs for prisoners were in full effect. They were thought to be useful in the sense that by the inmates working, they essentially paid for their own cost through prison as well as the salary of one or more law enforcement officials. Even then it was thought that the work programs provided a path to reformation for the offender. The inmates were put to work in a number of diverse job positions and their free labor was hard to beat. It was John Howard and Cesare Beccaria, two reformists of the prison system, who felt the work programs were essential in replacing capital punishment. As for early prison work programs within the United States of America, they become quite relevant during the time of the industrial era. The Civil war had ended along with slavery, and the agricultural south was in desperate need of the extra manual labor. Since it was then against the law to force slaves to do the dirty work, inmates became the next best solution. The northeastern United States such as New York and Pennsylvania had been using inmate's labor for years, not only to maintain the penitentiaries, but to work in the factories, which was the main economic staple of the industrial north. The "convict lease" system was established by law enforcement and state officials, who were more than willing to allow the convicts labor to be applied wherever needed. This system was favored by court officials because by leasing the inmate to a farmer or business at a small fee or even for free, it saved them from having to spend money on food and housing for the prisoner. Yet another system was established known as the "state account" system in which the state would be able to sell goods that were built by the inmates. These systems came with their fair share of abuse and therefore upset many members of the community. It seemed as though, if the state didn't have to pay for the inmates expenses and were able to use what they had to offer to some degree they did not care about the well-being of the individual. It became apparent that the work programs were being used to exploit labor from the criminals and not truly facilitate in rehabilitating their behavior for life after prison. Due to these concerns the use of prison work programs in the 20th century, were severely diminished and were not as prevalent again until the late 1960's. There were four major Acts imposed by the federal legislation that set provisions to make sure the abuse of inmates was stopped. The Hawes-Cooper Act of 1929 restricted the sale and use of goods manufactured by prisoners. The Ashurst-Summers Act of 1935, which prohibited sales of inmate-made goods between states. The Walsh-Healy Act of 1936 did not allow the labor of inmates to replace government contracts over $10, 000 and the Prohibitory Act of 1940, ensured that there was no transport of prison made goods except for agricultural products that were produced for their state. By the late 1960's, the Presidents Commission Task Force on Corrections claimed that it was vital for the prisoners to obtain knowledge, skill, practice and experience that would better assist their reintegration into the community. It was emphasized that the reformation of the inmates relied on the development of skills that would make it more likely the released inmate would not again resort to crime, but support themselves.
Today there are a few different types of work programs. There are programs that allow the inmates to work within the institution and the job description entails cooking or cleaning of the cells, does not have pay, but may assist with early release of the prisoner. Another type of job involves working as part of a sentence and these days work programs have been known to replace treatment programs. The seemingly most effective type of prisoner work program involves real work for private companies with real salaries as well. These have yielded very positive results. These "real" jobs are usually manufacturing type of jobs, manufacturing of clothes, signs, furniture, etc. After some debate and multiple studies it was found that those who worked in the real jobs for the private sector had a lower rate of re-arrest. In addition to allowing an inmate to feel reestablished as a productive member of society and to reaffirm positive feelings of themselves, their work provides financial assistance to the prison system and benefits the rest of society by releasing an ex-convict who will be less likely to resort back to a life of crime and therefore less dangerous to the public. The funds created by the inmates working whether they're earning a salary or not aid the state or federal system in compensating for the money that it takes to provide a prisoner with sufficient funds to feed and house them. In some cases, the inmates who work provide funds needed in order to help relieve over-crowding of the prison system. A prisoner willing to work for a private company also provides the employer an alternative to outsourcing. One criticism to this is that a prisoner working takes away useful jobs that could be utilized by the law abiding citizens of our nation.
So which types of criminal offenders qualify for these work programs? As one would imagine, there are a plethora of concerns that come along with operating a business with known criminals. There is security issues involved. Since they are selecting inmates, a majority of them are unqualified for the task at hand. When this is the case, a vocational program is set up in the institution. Note; not every institution provides or can afford to provide this type of educational resource. Although, the educational courses and programs are available to most the institutes population, when it comes to choosing who gets to work, the business owners as well as the institution tends to lean towards those inmates who have not committed violent crimes. The vocational training gives a hands-on experience at actual job sites before assigning them to work within the prison setting. The programs even go so far as to set goals for inmates taking the courses, by requiring them to achievement to higher educational accomplishments in order to obtain a promotion. This opportunity is one of few benefits for the incarcerated, yet many of the inmates have almost no motivation to work. When this happens, they are only cheating themselves out of seeing the correlation between their own hard work and rewards. When low motivation is the case, additional security supervision is required.
Security issues disrupt production cycles, are time consuming, and they may put the security personnel in danger. At times the problem is only dealing with one disruptive inmate, but sometimes the entire institution must go into lock down. The need for security is sometimes affected by a lack of money, making it more difficult for the work programs to run when there is a budget cut and loss of corrections officers. Another major security issue with running inmates work programs such as these is monitoring the tools within the work site. Clearly it is important to keep a watchful eye over the tools. It could be extremely dangerous for an inmate to take a tool back to their cell with them. So there are only two options, either enacting a strict policy over tools which may cut down on production time or to maximize production and increase the risk.
As for the people who are against the ideas of a prison work program, the consensus seems to be that they feel there are two major reasons for being against them. The first reason is that it is unfair to provide criminals who have broken the law, have possibly hurt somebody and are supposed to be being punished for it, with opportunities that not even all citizens on the "outside" are provided with in order to work or further educate themselves. The second major reason is it is believed by some that by giving jobs to prisoners, it takes away jobs from other hardworking Americans. There are even some activists that protest against prisoners being allowed out into the community even if they are under close supervision. People feel that it is a risk they are not willing to take when at any time a prisoner may just have the chance to escape or hurt someone. Sometimes a few of the inmate workers are sexual offenders which raises other issues among the community. There are those people who are against prison work programs, not just because they think it takes American jobs or because it's unfair to provide opportunities to inmates, but because they still believe there is abuse that goes on within the system and it is unfair to exploit the cheap labor of an inmate while calling it rehabilitation.