About a dozen states, including Oregon, Arizona, California, and Iowa, operate call centers in prisons, underscoring a push to employ inmates in telemarketing jobs that might otherwise go to low-wage countries such as India and the Philippines, reports USA Today. Arizona prisoners make business calls, as do inmates in Oklahoma. A call center for the motor vehicles department is run out of an all-female prison in Oregon. At least 2,000 inmates nationwide work in call centers, and that number is rising as companies seek cheap labor without incurring the wrath of politicians and unions. Prison populations are ballooning, offering U.S. companies another way to slash costs. “Prisons are prime candidates for low-skill jobs,” says Sasha Costanza-Chock, a University of Pennsylvania graduate who wrote a thesis on call centers at U.S. prisons.
About 3.5 percent of the 2.1 million U.S. prisoners produced goods and services worth an estimated $1.5 billion in 2002, the newspaper says. Union representatives call the hiring of prisoners a violation of minimum-wage laws and unfair competition to free workers. “Quite literally, they’re taking advantage of a captive audience,” says Tony Daley, research economist for the Communications Workers of America.