FPI, also known as UNICOR, is a government corporation created by Congress in 1934 to provide job training to federal prisoners, who earn up to $1.15 per hour. A large portion of their wages goes toward paying child support, fines, restitution and other court-ordered obligations.
In 2008, FPI employed 23,152 of the nation’s 201,280 federal prisoners (11.5 percent) to provide about 80 products and services for the government. However, a $65 million budget shortfall has compelled federal prison officials to stop or scale back operations at prison recycling, furniture, cable and electronics assembly factories.
“We’re feeling the same pressures that are present in the overall economy,” stated FPI spokeswoman Julie Rozier. She said the current workforce cuts are among the largest reductions in FPI’s 75-year history.
As of July 2010, just 16,115 of 211,146 federal prisoners (7.6 percent) were employed by FPI. In other words, while the federal prison population increased 4.9 percent, the FPI workforce decreased by 30 percent. Cuts announced last July will close another nine prison factories and require staff reductions at 11 other FPI sites, said Rozier.
Prison officials noted that the FPI job cuts result in a dramatic reduction in job training for prisoners; lost wages that prevent prisoners from paying child support, fines and other court-ordered financial obligations; and increased tension in overcrowded federal prisons. Of course, if prison officials were really concerned about prisoners being able to pay child support, court fines and restitution, they would ensure that prisoner workers receive at least minimum wage and not token slave wages.
“Anytime we have a loss of inmate jobs ... it becomes more challenging to keep inmates constructively occupied,” said Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) spokeswoman Traci Billingsley. BOP records suggest a potential correlation between the FPI layoffs and increased violence in the federal prison system. In 2009 there were 105 serious staff assaults, compared with 100 in 2008, and prisoner-on-prisoner assaults rose from 475 in 2008 to 524 in 2009.
“This is a big concern for us,” admitted Bryan Lowry, president of the Council of Prison Locals for the American Federation of Government Employees. Noting that the federal prison system is 37 percent over capacity and in some places there is a ratio of just one guard to every 150 prisoners, Lowry said guards and other staff members fear that FPI layoffs could lead to increased prisoner unrest. “It’s not a good situation,” he observed.
Source: USA Today
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