How WA Prison Industries Lost $1 Million, Harmed Private Firm


A fledgling company in Tacoma, Wa., called Spring Back Northwest recycles mattresses with workers who would likely have a hard time finding jobs anywhere else. The Seattle Times says the firm hires recovering addicts and the disabled, former inmates and those just down on their luck. It's also a company that Washington Correctional Industries (CI), one of the nation's largest inmate-labor programs, nearly drove out of business. Five years ago, CI launched its own mattress-recycling operation, taking in used mattresses for a fee and then selling their recyclable components.

CI promised not to cost tax dollars nor harm private businesses like Spring Back. Instead, the CI mattress program lost at least $1 million while squeezing out competitors by offering cheap inmate labor to mattress retailers in Seattle and statewide. CI is not allowed to sell the services of inmates to benefit private companies. Yet CI paid a newly formed Arizona nonprofit to serve as their money middleman. Later, on CI's behalf, a staffer at the nonprofit targeted Spring Back Northwest, trying to poach its largest retail customer, state records show.

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