Georgia’s 47,000 inmates are not paid for their work. Inmates produce items like license plates, street signs, furniture, socks, and eyeglasses – that can be used only by the state. State laws bar inmates from working for private industry.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that state Rep. Alan Powell is pushing the work-for-pay idea in a report he wrote on what he calls a crisis in the corrections system. A House subcommittee will discuss the idea Thursday. Powell, chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on criminal justice, wants the state to use the federal Prisoner Industry Enhancement (PIE) Certification Program. Inmates would be allowed to work in certain private-industry jobs on the outside, including construction, agriculture, and food processing.
The Georgia prison system is the nation’s sixth-largest, costing state taxpayers more than $900 million a year to operate. Powell believes money inmates earn could help offset the cost of their incarceration, averaging $17,500 a year per inmate. “If we keep filling up [prison] beds in Georgia, we’re going to have to keep building more prisons, which will be a continued burden on taxpayers,” Powell said. “What is the best thing you can do for rehabilitation? Train these people in different skills, transition them back into some sort of a work ethic.”
Les Schneider, an Atlanta labor lawyer who compiled a report on the PIE program, said “there is no downside” to paying inmates. Schneider said paying inmates might allow them to leave prison with a modest nest egg they can use in their transition into society. Inmates currently leave with a new outfit, $25, and a bus ticket.
Brian Owens, executive assistant to new Corrections Commissioner James Donald, said the commissioner -likes the concept of inmates working for pay.