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Wisconsin Uses Prisoner Workers to Cut Labor Costs

The recent news that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was planning to utilize prisoners to perform work previously done by state employees has ignited controversy from those who feel that such work will reduce the number of public employees.

In an interesting twist, liberal writers and bloggers, who would normally be expected to welcome rehabilitative activities for prisoners, as opposed to mere confinement, have assailed the move as akin to "slave labor." Ronald Horvath, a writer for the Village Soup blog in Maine, termed it, "The New Slavery: Prison Labor in Wisconsin."

The State of Wisconsin is not the only governmental body in the state to utilize prison labor in an attempt to cut costs. Racine County, just south of Milwaukee, is planning to outsource all of its landscaping, painting, and snow shoveling jobs that used to be done by unionized workers to its prisoners, according to the Journal Times of Racine. Previous union contracts with the jail had prohibited such arrangements to use prisoner labor.

The liberal blog, "Think Progress,"    stated, "While giving prisoners more work and activity options is generally positive, using free inmate labor to replace public sector workers is a disturbing trend." This flies in the face of facts and hard data that show that maintaining jails and prisons is expensive, and the common-sense conclusion that prisoners might have something positive to contribute to their communities. Most county jails pay at least $100 a day to maintain a prisoner, who might otherwise spend the day sleeping, reading, or watching television.

Racine County executive, Jim Ladwid, said he plans on reducing the sentences of inmates who do county work, in order to reduce costs ." We have a win-win when we use the (prisoners). It gives them a sense of value they are helping the community." He also added that it would help the county maintain some property that has been neglected. He has also indicated that he plans to use prisoner labor to pave a parking lot at a local park.

According to Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie, the use of such labor will help local governments financially. "These reforms will ultimately help balance budgets, avoid layoffs, and at the same time improve services. In this case (Racine) County employees can build a parking lot instead of just mow grass."

Georgia Governor Nathan Deal has planned to use state probationers to work paid jobs vacated by undocumented alien farm workers who had recently fled the state. Other conservative commentators have hailed the news as great for Wisconsin taxpayers, and a model of fiscal savings.



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