The Norman Transcript

Headlines

November 5, 2012

Prison factories caught in private business debate

TALLADEGA, Ala. — On the outside, Unicor, with its big oaks and magnolia trees, looks like it could be part of a landscaped industrial park. Step a little closer and it’s clear the apparel shop lies in the middle of a medium-security federal prison in east Alabama.

The factory and those like it that employ convicted felons are at the heart of a simmering debate about whether prisons should be siphoning away jobs that could be filled by those who need them during the nation’s toughest period of unemployment in decades.

Congressional Republicans, a handful of Democrats and private-industry critics want to clamp down on Unicor, the trade name for Federal Prison Industries.

Almost 13,000 inmates working in federal lockups around the country for a few dollars a day make everything from military uniforms to office furniture to electrical parts that are sold exclusively to federal agencies. With annual revenues that reached $900 million last year, Unicor is the federal government’s 36th-largest vendor.

Corrections officials say the program teaches prisoners invaluable job skills and personal discipline that help cut down on their return to prison. Inmates who work in the program are 24 percent less likely to commit more crimes than other prisoners after being released, they say.

But Misti Keeton’s eyes welled with tears at the thought of losing her job to a convict. She sews military apparel in the west Alabama town of Fayette at American Power Source. The company is laying off about 50 workers at her plant and another one in Columbus, Miss., after losing a contract to make Air Force exercise garb.

“I’m terrified,” Keeton said. “I’ve got two teenagers at home. I don’t know what I’m supposed to say to them if I lose this job.”

Critics of the program say Unicor undercuts private companies because of lower operating costs and laws that require federal agencies to use inmate-produced products when able. Inmates in the Talladega prison factory are paid by the pieces of clothing they complete and average around $150 a month, which goes into an account at the prison. At American Power Source, workers make $9.25 an hour average, or about $1,480 a month based on a 40-hour week.

For local news and more, subscribe to The Norman Transcript Smart Edition, or our print edition.

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
Headlines
  • Junior Police Graduation First Junior Police Academy graduates

    The room went dark and a slideshow flipped through photos of children participating in the first Junior Police Academy as kids chattered excitedly, remembering what they had done over the past two weeks. Norman Police Department hosted ...

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • Officials say transparency lacking in Wal-Mart zoning

    Norman city staff recently admitted to withholding information from the public regarding a controversial zoning change in southeast Norman. If approved by the city council, the proposal will allow a Wal-Mart supercenter at Cedar Lane and ...

    July 25, 2014

  • Air Algerie jet crashes with 116 on board

    OUAGADOUGO, Burkina Faso — An Air Algerie jetliner carrying 116 people crashed Thursday in a rainstorm over restive Mali, and its wreckage was found near the border of neighboring Burkina Faso — the third major international aviation ...

    July 25, 2014

  • Nonprofit raises $3.9M-plus for new center

    The Center for Children and Families, a United Way of Norman partner agency, announced Thursday that it exceeded its public fundraising goal of $3.5 million and raised more than $3.9 million to complete the purchase and renovation of a ...

    July 25, 2014

  • Very bad week: Airline disasters come in a cluster

    WASHINGTON — Nearly 300 passengers perish when their plane is shot out of the sky. Airlines suspend flights to Israel’s largest airport after rocket attacks. Two airliners crash during storms. Aviation has suffered one of its worst weeks ...

    July 25, 2014

  • Police log

    Police responded to the following incidents Wednesday: · 5:58 a.m. indecent exposure, 100 block of West Comanche Street · 6:08 a.m. burglary in progress, 100 block of West Hayes Street · 8:09 a.m. larceny report, 100 ...

    July 25, 2014

  • Felonies filed

    The following people were charged with felony counts in the Cleveland County Court Clerk’s Office: · Angela Beth Mendinghall, 36, unauthorized use of a vehicle; driving with a canceled, suspended or revoked license · Daniel ...

    July 25, 2014

  • Immigrant children being placed with sponsors

    OKLAHOMA CITY — The federal government says more than 200 unaccompanied children in Oklahoma have been placed with sponsors so far this year. The federal government released a state-by-state breakdown Thursday of the numbers of ...

    July 25, 2014

  • OCU prepares to move law library downtown

    OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma City University’s School of Law is moving its library into a historic building in downtown Oklahoma City....

    July 25, 2014

  • Grad to serve as delegate at camp

    William Long, 2014 Norman North High School graduate, recently represented Oklahoma as a delegate at the 2014 National Youth Science Camp. Long joined 100 other top high school graduates representing the United States and eight other ...

    July 25, 2014