Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Prison piece of the PIE

One area the County Commissioners Court has overlooked is the list of requirements for private industry to provide jobs in the prison. According to state and federal laws, no prison industry can exist without compliance with the Prison Industry Enhancement Certification Program or PIE-CP. Without a certification under this program, no prison made goods or services can be sold except to certain government agencies, and no private company can contract for prison labor. There are 50 of these certifications available, and 38 of them have already been awarded.

There are three jurisdictions in Texas that have these certifications: Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Texas Youth Commission, and Red River County Jail. Not one of these agencies is involved, or even interested in the local prison project. That means that Tom Green County will have to get its own certification. It doesn't look like they have started that process yet. There are nine mandatory criteria that must be met before certification can be granted. These include certification that the prevailing wage will be paid, no local workers will be displaced, that local labor and industry groups have been consulted and satisfied, and that the program complies with the National Environmental Policy Act. There must even be a certification on a benefits package for the prisoners comparable to private-industry benefits, including workers compensation. This must be done by the county government, as this certification is not available to a private business or non-government organization.

So we have two problems here. First, it doesn't appear that the county has even started on getting this certification. This could be a long process, with no guarantee that the certification will be granted. Then the county has to be responsible for the private industry at the prison. They can use CCI or BAC as their agent but ultimately they will be held responsible for keeping the program in compliance with all necessary laws and regulations. Any problem with the private industry would leave the county and the tax payers on the hook for large sums of money.

In the end, the county will have to contract to supply the prisoners. The county will have to monitor the care and safety of the prisoners. The county will have to monitor the prison industry. The county will be responsible for problems in any of these areas. Tell me again about how local citizens and tax payers are protected in this private prison scheme?


  1. Some comments have come to my attention that show just how little understanding some of the local people have of the Prison Industry Enhancement program.

    A number of those involved seem to be under the impression that the prisoners can be paid minimum wage with no benefits to speak of. They have even said that this would attract back jobs that have been moved off shore. They need to read the following mandatory criteria

    2.Wages. Authority to pay wages at a rate not less than that paid for work of a similar nature in the locality in which the work is performed.

    4.Benefits. Authority to provide inmate workers with benefits comparable to those made available by the federal or state government to similarly situated private-sector employees, including workers’ compensation and, in some circumstances, Social Security.

    I am no expert, but reading the supporting material and the applications, this means that the wages paid must be close to those paid to anyone in the area doing a similar job, and that the benefits must be there as well. There might be some savings over non prisoner labor, but it will not be enough to bring jobs back from China.

    The next comment has been that the local prison might be able to operate on the PIE certification of the jurisdiction where the prisoners are coming from. This is possible but brings its own set of problems.

    First, local labor unions and industry must be consulted to maintain PIE certification. That is local to the prison, not just the state supplying the prisoners.

    If New York wants to send their prisoners here and use their certification for prison labor, they will have to consult with and satisfy local groups. They will also have to have people monitoring the program to ensure compliance. It is really not likely they will consider the hassle of monitoring a program half way across the country worth it when they are having more than enough fun monitoring the programs in their own state.

    They might be able to contract the monitoring of the program to the people they contract with to house the prisoners. That puts the county back in the hot seat because the county is who must contract to the other states for the prisoners.

    This might be why no state has signed up to supply us prisoners yet.

  2. I would add here that possibly the most frightening thing I have discovered in the process of delving into this prison issue is the misinformation being bandied about, often by people who are responsible for making these decisions. Assuming Mrs. Stovall's recollection of Mr. Reeves' comments on wages and benefits is accurate, it is clear Mr. Reeves has no actual knowledge of what federal law requires under the PIE program.

    This has been consistent throughout this process. We will talk to people in a decision making capacity and ask if some point of CCI's history has been considered. The most common response has been What history? They have a history?

    I have taken the time to call judges, city managers, and county officials in several of the venues where CCI has made its pitch or actually operated (only once, Red River County Texas 1994-1995). Most of the folk are glad to take the time to share their information, and a common inquiry has been, heard you guys were considering this, wondered when somebody was going to ask us questions. The whole time I spent on the phone with a slew of people, one person told me I was his second caller on the subject, and the other caller had also been a private citizen inquiring in no official capacity.

    My advice, and not only on this issue, is never assume the folk you might think are supposed to be investigating things on our behalf actually are doing so. If your nose detects the scent of snake oil, follow it up, check it out. Do not blithely assume, "Nah, couldn't be, surely 'they' would have looked at that."

  3. The Mrs. Stovall comment Jim Ryan mentioned in the above comment was from a letter to the editor published in the Standard Times, Sunday, July 31st.

  4. We have recieved information back from the Bureau of Justice Assistance. I quote from the Email

    "As a follow-up to our telephone conversation, in accordance with statute, a PIE program can only be designated as such by the Bureau of Justice Assistance Director. Inmates that are not working in a PIE program designated by BJA as such are not considered PIE workers. Therefore, the situation that you described to me over the phone regarding importing inmates from other PIE programs to perform activities at an institution that has not been certified as a cost accounting center under PIE would not be considered a PIE program.


    Julius Dupree"

    Hope you find it as interesting as I do.