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Jailhouse Travel Agents

Travel Wholesalers International, a travel agency based in Fairfax, Virginia, recruits workers in out-of-the-way places. The company employs 12 maximum-security prisoners at the Leath Correctional Institution, a women's prison in Greenwood, South Carolina. The prisoner-workers talk to clients over the phone, registering plane reservations and other travel plans in the agency's computer database.

TWI owner Dan Bohan pays the South Carolina Department of Corrections $3 per hour for each prisoner. Prison officials pay the workers 50¢ to $1.50 per hour, with no benefits, keeping the remainder to cover administrative costs.

To prevent them from writing down personal information about TWI clients, the prisoners are not allowed to possess pens or pencils in the workplace.

The labor-cost savings TWI realizes by hiring prisoners rather than workers from outside the prisons are significant, but, according to Bohan, reducing costs was not his motivation when he decided to look into hiring prisoners. He says he got the idea after learning that many ex-cons end up returning to prison because they lack marketable job skills. "We guarantee them jobs with our company when they get out," Bohan told a reporter.

TWI is apparently well satisfied with the prison-labor arrangement. Bohan hopes to expand his prisoner workforce to 10 prisons, with 40 or 50 workers in each prison.

Not everyone is pleased with TWI's use of prisoner labor, though. Greg Woodhead, an economist at the AFL-CIO's national offices in Washington, says, "In many cases, hiring prisoners is a way of avoiding minimum wages, fair labor standards and labor compensation."

Source: Columbus Dispatch

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