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Is It the Right Time to Be Using Prison Labor to Manufacture Military Uniforms?

The federal government is having some military uniforms made by inmates in federal prison, resulting in lay-offs at companies that currently hold the contracts.

With a contract for U.S. military uniforms expiring in October, the federal government is pulling some of its contracted work and shifting it to UNICOR, the Federal Prison Industries program.

According to a story by Fox News, it will cost about 15 percent more, $34.18 compared to $29.44 per uniform, but proponents of the program tout other benefits. Some of those benefits are that the FPI program helps provide training, education and employment for inmates in federal custody. Inmates working for the program are reportedly 24 percent less likely to re-offend and 14 percent more likely to be employed long-term after they have been released. Supplies also are purchased from small businesses, helping fuel the economy.

But opponents say at a time when unemployment is so high, it will hurt the regular business community. A Southeast company, American Apparel in Alabama, has already laid off employees after losing a contract to FPI and a second, American Power Source, also in Alabama, is likely to do so when the contract is pulled in October.

Do you think this is the right time to switch the contract or would it be better to wait for the unemployment rate to improve? Tell us in comments. 

Pat Gabilondo September 17, 2012 at 01:10 PM
I have no issue with inmates providing labor for needed projects, but the jobs replaced should be pulled back from overseas - not US workers. Procurement needs to revamp their supplier selection policies if the negative employment result is in the US. Who's overseeing the goals of the project?
Sharon Swanepoel September 17, 2012 at 01:27 PM
I'm with you on this one Pat. I have mixed feelings. I firmly believe that just incarcerating people without giving them tools when they come out isn't helpful. However, pulling contracts from legitimate companies that can make the goods cheaper, as well as the need to keep people on the outside employed, seems a little-counter productive in these current times.
Racer X September 17, 2012 at 01:37 PM
I would like to know why the uniforms would cost 15% MORE to make with PRISON labor? Just another example of Government inefficiency. I still can't believe some people want bigger government with it's track record. I say leave the uniform industry alone. They can make the uniforms for 15% less money AND make a profit while the government "program" will be in our pockets for it. Put the prisoners in work camps and make them pound big rocks into little ones, without pay.
bill valentine September 18, 2012 at 12:56 PM
i am 110% for using prison labor .why let them lay back and watch t.v. and eat 3 meals a day while serving time for a crime they have been convicted of ? i remember the old chain gangs in alabama.after serving their time they thought hard and long about getting in trouble again.we are too soft on inmates.keep them working.they need the skills so they can keep working after released.
Karsten Torch September 18, 2012 at 03:56 PM
I'm with Mike - why would the uniforms cost MORE? Are we seriously paying these guys to make uniforms? Don't we already provide room, board, cable, workout facilities, etc? I would expect that the uniforms would be considerable less. If we're paying more for them (yes, we, it's our money) then no, leave it with the private companies. But I'm all for the theory of having inmates do more work for their living conditions. We are, in effect, paying them anyway, so why not? And if you don't want to work for 'free,' then don't get thrown in prison. Just sayin....
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