<== Site Review (2005-09-28) ==>
Prison labor is one of those deep divisional issue in government. Making good use of people's time while they are behind bars teaches valuable skills. Teaching marketable skills reduces recidivism and can provide money for victim compensation. Profits from prison labor helps the state. However, the prisoners are competing with free labor, and excessive use of "forced labor" can lead to corruption and abuse.
These issues often come to a head during downturns in the economy. Who should be laid off? The prisoners working at the UCI dairy or those as the many local dairies that are suffering from the current glut of milk products on the market?
States tend to be extremely careful about where and when they apply this resource. For example, Oregon has noted that America has already lost the main stay of its garment industry. Oregon decided to use its prison labor to make the popular Prison Blues line of jackets and jeans.
In Utah, Utah Correctional Industries provides a variety of services from scanning in blue prints for state agencies, data entry, roofing work on state owned buildings, community services. One of the most interesting lines of work is the labor intensive task of making custom office furnishings. I find it interesting because sitting in a cubicle working for peanuts makes one wonder how our labor differs from that of prisoners.
I personally see the UCI as a valuable service, however, I admit in times when the market is suffering over capacity in almost every segment of the economy, it does make you wonder where the line should be drawn between what prisoners should or should not do.
When I first visited the UCI site, they had an online store hawking the furniture. (You can still see parts of the catalog in the Wayback Machine). So apparently, UCI is cutting back on areas where it competes with private enterprise.
UCI appears to be cutting back on services offered. At least there is still the important job of making license plates.