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PRIDE Eyes Private Markets

Florida's prison industry program, known as PRIDE, is developing a pilot program to allow private manufacturers to "outsource" contracts that would have PRIDE furniture plant workers produce furniture for eventual sale on the open market.

Success there could lead to more "outsourcing" contracts which would have PRIDE workers doing everything from processing seafood to making mattresses for private industry.

"Our marketplace in the past has been tax entities -- cities, counties, the state and school boards," says PRIDE business development project manager Brian Connet. "We see the [tax entity] market actually shrinking and since the number of inmates is increasing, we need to find other avenues to put inmates to work."

However, PRIDE's foray into the private marketplace rankles some labor unions and business leaders.

"Prison labor is one thing," says Phil Neuenfeldt of the AFL-CIO. "But prison labor that provides unfair labor to the outside world and keeps pressure on wages downward is not a good thing."

A Florida labor broker told reporters that some clients already have indicated they won't be needing the services of her company's contingent laborers much longer because they plan to take advantage of PRIDE's outsourcing program. "This makes it hard to compete," said the labor broker, who asked that her name not be published.

Connett denied that PRIDE will take jobs away from law-abiding citizens. PRIDE spokeswoman Patricia Foote said the program may even help keep some businesses from leaving Florida in search of cheaper labor overseas.

Associated Press ,The News Herald (Panama City, FL)

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