DALTON, Ga. — Industries are being recruited to build manufacturing facilities inside Georgia state prisons, so that prisoners learn how to earn an honest living and do not come back.
State Corrections Commissioner James Donald is pitching the Prison Industry Enhancement Program, and spoke about it Friday at a meeting of the Dalton/Whitfield County Chamber of Commerce.
He said inmates need “suitable places to stay and meaningful work” to stay out of the prison system.
“I can get (a prisoner to) sing Kumbaya and (he) will look at you and say, ‘I’ve learned my lesson,’ but if he is sleeping under a viaduct and his stomach is suffering from hunger, he will be doing terrible things to us,” Commissioner Donald said.
Space for industrial workers is ready now at Arrendale State Prison in Alto, Ga., he said.
Commissioner Donald said a company taking part in the Prison Industry Enhancement Programs would be required to pay wages to prison workers and pledge that the prison workers will not take away jobs from outside employees.
Inmates would earn about 52 cents on the dollar of their wages, Commissioner Donald said. The remainder of the inmate’s paychecks would go toward taxes, room and board and victim’s compensation.
For industries, the benefits would be many, he said. Among them are tax incentives for participation, no requirement to provide workers with costly health insurance or pension or retirement plans, and reduced costs related to a work force with no required vacation, family leave or sick pay.
Bill Jourdain, chairman of the Dalton/Whitfield County Chamber of Commerce board of directors, said, “It presents a golden opportunity for businesses. Businesses are always interested in saving money and cutting costs, and this accomplishes that.”
Georgia already has a corrections industry program, in which state prisoners make everything from eye glasses to filing cabinets for state government. Prisoners also farm on 23,000 acres in the state.
The Prison Industry Enhancement Program will allow prisoner-made made products to be sold in the free market.
The program was created by Congress in 1979 and is active in about 40 states, including Tennessee.
Commissioner Donald said a main goal of the program is to improve Georgia’s recidivism rate. He said 65 percent of inmates in Georgia’s state prisons are repeat offenders.
The Georgia prison system is the nation’s fifth largest with a population of about 60,000, officials said.
State Rep. Jay Neal, R-LaFayette, said that population size makes it crucial to lower the $50-a-day cost to incarcerate convicted felons. He said that starts with changing the public’s perception of prisoners.
“We need to understand the difference between the ones we are mad at and the ones we are afraid of,” Rep. Neal said. “The ones we are just mad at … we need to look for ways to get them involved, whether it’s working at chicken houses in South Georgia, or whatever, so they are bringing in some income to offset the expenses we have, plus are able to take care of their children and their fines and restitution.”
Paul Tipton, branch manager of Quality Staffing in Dalton, Ga., said prisoners and ex-cons make good workers. He said there are prisoners leaving the system with master’s degrees.
“If you looked at that degree and that résumé, and you excluded the fact they were in prison, you would think you would have to pay them $60,000 or $80,000 a year,” Mr. Tipton said. “However, if they’ve been in the prison system and they know someone is giving them a second chance to be established, they will work for a lot less.”
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