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South Dakota Non-profits Lose Cheap Prison Labor

Many states have gotten the message that there are viable alternatives to incarceration that cost less and are equally effective in terms of reducing crime rates, but some non-profits like the Salvation Army are suffering because declining prison populations mean fewer low-or-no-cost prisoner workers.

Most state DOCs have work release programs whereby low-security prisoners are released during the day for job assignments outside the facility, and then return in the evening; most prisons also provide work crews for local communities.

Prison Legal News has previously reported on companies objecting to the use of prisoner labor to produce goods and services, as prisons enjoy an unfair advantage by paying low wages and providing no benefits to prisoner workers. [See, e.g., PLN, March 2013, p.14; Feb. 2012, p.38; May 2012, p.1; March 2010, p.1].

However, declines in prison populations have negatively impacted non-profit organizations that rely on low-cost prisoner labor.

For example, in the northern Great Plains, oil-related jobs have absorbed many formerly unemployed or under-employed workers, creating a labor shortage that non-profits are hard pressed to deal with.

According to Sioux Falls, South Dakota Major Betty Bender, "Normally, in the [Salvation Army] thrift store, we would have seven inmates and today we have three, and some days with one. I think a few days without any, when we're not able to get any, which is really hard for the thrift store. We kind of depend upon these workers to sort and hang [clothes], with the truck, and move things around."

The South Dakota Department of Corrections recently sent letters to non-profits in the Sioux Falls area, informing them about a shortage of prisoner workers. In addition to the Salvation Army, other affected organizations include the Feeding South Dakota Food Bank, Habitat for Humanity, Humane Society, Furniture Mission and Hope Haven.

Apparently, non-profits that have come to depend on free or low-cost prisoner labor will have to start competing for more expensive freeworld workers, just like other businesses.


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