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October 22, 2014

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Politics:

Lawmakers lambaste money-losing prison industries program

Legislators lambasted the state’s prison industry program Friday.

They bemoaned the financial losses the program has incurred during the past few years and further decried the possibility that prisoners could be unduly competing with the private sector for scarce jobs.

“It appears that at some point the reserves are going to run out, but in the meantime, it’s a loss-loss across the state,” Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, said at a legislative committee meeting, noting that the state would lose money and the private sector could lose jobs.

The prison industries program uses voluntary prison labor to run various shops with some proceeds from sales paying for restitution and room and board for prisoners; the prisoners receive training and skills they can later use to find a job when they are no longer incarcerated.

Department of Corrections chief Greg Cox conceded that the program has been a money loser during recent years but still defended the merits of the Silver State Industries program.

“We have been able to say historically this is helping us operate our facilities, it’s a good management tool, and it provides vocational training,” he told legislators. “The cold hard facts are now that we have to aggressively look at what industries are not turning a profit.”

The prison industries’ furniture and metal shop, auto and upholstery shop, and drapery shop have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars during the past few years.

Others, like the mattress, print and garment shops have turned small profits. But those surpluses aren’t enough to offset losses in the other shops, and the department has been drawing down reserves as a result.

“This is a clear track into the dirt, and without substantial retooling, it’ll be in the hole,” Assemblyman David Bobzien, D-Reno, said.

Bobzien and Assemblyman Michael Sprinkle, D-Sparks, tried to wrangle an answer from Cox about which programs would be cut and what the department would do to get its industry program on a sustainable track.

Cox said he’s “very pessimistic” about future revenues and that “when resources go, of course programs will go.”

He cited the auto shop, the biggest money loser, as one program that could be under the chopping block.

Cox faced further criticism for the prison industry’s public-private partnership with Alpine Steel, which owes the state about $400,000.

The company also got a below-market rate lease to operate within High Desert State Prison, which Bobzien called an unfair subsidy.

The challenge of convincing a business to work within a prison environment necessitated the need for a cheap rate, said Nevada Department of Corrections Public Information Officer Brian Connett.

Danny Thompson, of the AFL-CIO, also protested Alpine Steel’s use of cheap prison labor.

“They’re displacing people who are out of work with prisoners,” he said. “There’s no way you can compete. ... I have 300 out-of-work ironworkers who are not criminals.”

He said Alpine Steel produced steel girders for a construction project at the North Fifth Street Bridge in North Las Vegas.

Calling into question the quality of prison labor, he said the potential lack of certification and training for prison laborers could lead to unsafe construction on a public road over Interstate 15.

The company’s owner, Randy Bulloch, testified to legislators that his company did no work on girders for that project and that the prison laborers have required certifications.

Cox also said Alpine Steel is on a payback program and is no longer operating within the state’s prison system, although that could change in the future.

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  1. I support the prison industries. It is an investment as a rehabilitation tool to equip inmates with an employable skill for when they are outside the prison setting. You either pay NOW or pay LATER. Personally, even with the national financial crisis, we must not lose sight on the GOOD prison industries does.

    Can changes be made? You bet. Scaling back on such products as draperies should happen when the resort industry stopped or slowed down building. But the resorts are "rennovating" or "remodeling" so now investing in updating fixtures for industries as draperies is needed. Commonsense should prevail on all this. There is a host of old guard nepotism that tends to keep things from changing until those "old guard" folks are gone from the picture. I have noticed that up in Northern Nevada especially. You have those with power and special interests caring of their own forever, it seems, and keeping any major changes or improvements from happening, until they leave or die.

    A compassionate society must include those who have fallen short in life. We build schools and prisons, and must make a way out of both that are successful.

    Blessings and Peace,
    Star

  2. Prison Industry Consultant, Bob Sloan, provided great insight into the issues that the prison industries faces stating, "Director Cox seemed to be at a loss for solutions to the many problems surrounding his prison industries - and on how to damper the criticisms aimed at him because of the industry program.

    Some obvious solutions that could have been suggested to the legislature today never came up in the responses the NDOC Director and his Deputy provided to pertinent questions. They could have suggested ways to stop the industries from losing money, such as enforcing collection of lease payments, owed salaries for staff. Reevaluate all facility leases private companies enjoy with prison industries and increase them comparable to similar leases in the private sector - you know at the rate all other Nevada businesses pay for manufacturing space. They could have suggested not extending credit (tax dollars) to companies partnering with the prison industries.

    The decision on reducing lease rates to private companies on publicly owned property or facilities should not be a decision made by a Deputy Director, rather one made by the Board of Prison Commissioners. Taxpayers rely upon Director Cox to protect their interests. Entering into leases that cost those taxpayers as much as $90,000 per year in potential income does not generate trust - or a lessening in deficits.

    To use such low cost leases as an "incentive" to encourage companies to bring manufacturing to the prison industries is an expenditure that should be authorized at a higher pay grade.

    It was disheartening to learn that after owing the state more than $400,000 for four years the company in question was offered an agreement to repay the money over an additional four year+ period without even interest penalties. Director Cox added insult to injury by declaring that if Alpine Steel's work picked up he would reopen the prison industry to him. That statement alone left the impression the Director was willing to move forward with a partnership that has already cost the state nearly a half million dollars - and let that company amass more debt as if the NDOC can extend state subsidies in the face of legislative objections or concerns.

    Bob Sloan
    Prison Industry Consultant"

    And like I said, MUCH of the problem lies within its own authoritative power structure, with all its cronyism and nepotism inbredded within. Sloan states the obvious (and I had not read his comments before writing mine). The public is involved, whether we are aware of it or not. Please contact your Lawmaker and make your concerns known. Thank you!

    Blessings and Peace,
    Star