Florists in Colorado are crying out against a prison program that is competing against them, undercutting their prices due to the help of prisoner slave labor. What started as a prison program to keep prisoners busy has now turned into a business that florists in Canon City cannot match with price.
“I absolutely believe in competition,” said Katie Martin, owner of Touch of Love Florist. Despite that, she believes that the greenhouse program at the local prison is taking away customers with prices that she and other local florists cannot compete against. “Therefore putting a crunch on those of us that are trying to compete and have to stay with a pretty stable price so we can make a profit in our business.”
The greenhouse program started at the local prisons, which is the largest employer in the Canon City area. Prison officials see it as a management tool. “We’re trying to give [prisoners] real values, teach them to get up in the morning, go to work, work eight hours,” said Colorado Corrections Industries Director Steve Smith. He says the industries are “self-supporting.” A taxpayer savings of $5,000 per prisoner. Smith provides no proof to support his claims. Since prisoner workers are paid only pennies an hour for their labor it appears the main value being instilled is their labor is worth nothing.
Martin sees it as a threat to her livelihood. “It has to be affecting the jobs out here on the market. I know I don’t have as many employees as I did ten years ago,” she said. The other complaint is that the program started as a wholesale flower provider, but it has evolved into a retail seller that especially focuses on prison employees. The prison industry and local businesses have started a dialogue, where prison officials are being urged to scale back to solely wholesale.
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