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Savings from North Carolina Prisoner Slave Labor Result in Additional Prison Beds

by David M. Reutter

Touting its 140-year history of using prisoner slave labor, the North Carolina Department of Correction (NDOC) announced in January 2011 that it will save taxpayers $27 million when building more than 2,700 new prison beds with prisoner labor.

The North Carolina legislature has allocated funds since 2007 for the NDOC to build six prison dormitories. Prison officials proudly announced that the use of prisoner workers will let the department build seven new dorms at a total cost of $82.7 million.

Using its “Inmate Construction Program” (ICP), the NDOC is “building additions to six 1,000 bed prisons that opened between 2003 and 2008.” A seventh project will be completed by a private contractor. An NDOC press release stated the department had already completed a 504-bed dorm at the Scotland Correctional Institution and was working on another 252-bed dorm at the same prison.

Additional building projects were scheduled from February 2011 to December 2012 at the Alexander Correctional Institution (252-bed dorm); Bertie Correctional Institution (504-bed dorm); Lanesboro Correctional Institution (504-bed dorm); Maury Correctional Institution (504-bed dorm); and Tabor Correctional Institution (252-bed dorm).

“Without the use of inmate labor, the estimated cost to build these facilities would have been $109.6 million – a savings of $26.9 million,” the NDOC said. “The seventh project, a $16 million dorm addition at Maury Correctional Institution, was possible without any additional legislative funding through savings achieved on the first six projects by using inmate labor and from reduced construction costs due to the economic recession.” Ironically, by using prison slave labor the state helps to ensure its incarceration program does as little as possible to create jobs for the non-imprisoned citizens who must pay for the cost of building and maintaining its prisons.

The ICP dates back to 1870, when prisoners began building the State Penitentiary in Raleigh, a “castle-like” facility that was completed in 1884. Seven years later, prisoners completed the state’s third governor’s residence. The Executive Mansion is still home to the governor, and is touted as “one of the state’s finest examples of Queen Anne style of Victorian architecture.”

In the 1920s and 1930s, prisoner slave labor was used to build North Carolina railroads and highways, leading to the state’s nickname, the “Good Roads State.” The ICP was restructured in 1993. Of the 600 prisoners involved statewide, about 130 are in an apprenticeship program certified by the North Carolina Department of Labor. Upon completion of 480 hours in classroom learning and providing the NDOC with 6,000 hours of labor, termed “on-the-job training,” prisoners receive their journeyman’s certification.

Prisoners employed in the ICP earn up to $3.00 a day, which easily explains the $27 million in savings cited by NDOC officials in connection with the state’s prison expansion project.

Sources: NDOC press release,

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