Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The profits of prohibition

There's a lot written about the cost of prohibition but you don't often hear of the profit side. Hat tip to JackL for this interesting catch from Government Computer News. This will come in handy for the datamining programs.
Federal Prison Industries Inc. plans to greatly increase its sales of technology services to federal agencies both directly and by joining teams of other vendors over the next two years, according to the Bureau of Prisons.
Who is the Federal Prison Industries Inc., you ask? According to this site it's a large and diverse corporation.
Some businesses benefit from captive audiences; this company benefits from captive employees. Federal Prison Industries (FPI), known by its trade name UNICOR, uses prisoners to make products and provide services, mainly for the US government. More than 19,300 inmates (about 13% of the total eligible inmate population) are employed in more than 100 FPI factories at 71 prisons. UNICOR, which is part of the Justice Department's Bureau of Prisons, manufactures products such as office furniture, clothing, beds and linens, electronics equipment, and eyewear. It also offers services including data entry, bulk mailing, laundry services, printing, recycling, and refurbishing vehicle components.
This Hoover's Report tells us it's a growth corporation.
UNICOR is an indispensable component of the Federal Prison System and maintains first priority for production of supplies to the federal government. Products manufactured by UNICOR for DSCP are listed in their "Schedule of Products". Any new product line to be manufactured by UNICOR is listed in the Commerce Business Daily prior to production. For a copy of their catalog call 800-827-3168. When UNICOR lacks production capacity authorization is granted for DSCP to acquire products from the commercial sector.
It's fiscal year-end September 2004 sales (mil.) were $879.4, with 1-Year sales Growth of 21.8%. Net Income was (mil.) $63.6. Maybe I'm missing something here. I'm told UNICOR is paying the inmates $.23 to $1.15 per hour for prison labor. Why is a government agency even bidding for contracts, much less turning a profit? Shouldn't they simply be providing needed goods to the government at cost? That would save the taxpayers some money. The added layer of bureaucracy to manage profits, costs us more in overhead and what's the point? The profits don't go back to the government, they go back solely to UNICOR.

Most chilling however, is to discover from the BOP's own website how UNICOR's positive growth is made possible.
As a result of Federal law enforcement efforts and new legislation that dramatically altered sentencing in the Federal criminal justice system, the 1980s brought a significant increase in the number of Federal inmates. The Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 established determinate sentencing, abolished parole, and reduced good time; additionally, several mandatory minimum sentencing provisions were enacted in 1986, 1988, and 1990. From 1980 to 1989, the inmate population more than doubled, from just over 24,000 to almost 58,000. During the 1990s, the population more than doubled again, reaching approximately 136,000 at the end of 1999 as efforts to combat illegal drugs and illegal immigration contributed to significantly increased conviction rates.

Staffing levels also have risen dramatically in recent years. In 1980, the Bureau had approximately 10,000 employees. That number almost doubled in 10 years to just over 19,000 in 1990. As of June 2003, there were about 34,000 employees in the Bureau.
About half of the inmate/employees of UNICOR are in prison for drug charges. The BOP gets a lot more staff because there's more warm bodies to administer. Seeing a connection here to our government's incomprehensible insistence on pouring money into the War on Some Drugs' programs that do nothing to solve the problems of drug abuse? When common sense fails, money provides the answer. They don't want to solve it, they want to fight it -- forever.


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