Decades ago, Georgia ended its notorious policy of leasing prisoners to individuals and corporations to perform backbreaking labor, sometimes under the whip and in chains. Now the state again is looking at the idea of allowing its prisoners to work for private firms, reports the Associated Press. This time, the goal isn’t to provide cheap labor to lay railroad track or mine coal. Rather, prisoners will learn useful skills and build a financial nest egg that can help them re-enter society. Some money earned will go into a savings account and some will go into his account at the prison store.
A state law that takes effect July 1 allows the state to begin laying the groundwork for the new program. Until 1979, when Congress enacted the Prison Industry Enhancement program, federal law banned the sale of inmate-made products in interstate commerce. Now, such sales are allowed when states choose to participate in the program and meet criteria set by the U.S. Department of Justice. More than 5,100 prisoners in 34 states already participate. Among Southern states, South Carolina by far has the largest program with nearly 1,300 prisoners who make products ranging from wood flooring and furniture to pet clothing and greeting cards. About 1,400 of the Georgia’s roughly 50,000 inmates already perform work behind bars for Georgia Correctional Industries, a public corporation owned by the state that makes furniture, cleaning products and other products solely for government use. Its prisoner-workers are not paid.