Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Did a prisoner repair your government computer? Correctional Industries program said to reduce recidivism

The Houston Chronicle yesterday had a nice little article about TDCJ's Texas Correctional Industries program training inmates to perform computer repair, which unlike picking cotton or working on a hoe squad actually teach prisoners a skill that's marketable when they get out. The story opened thusly:
With stacks of broken computers towering toward the ceiling and intense white-clad technicians frowning over workbenches filled with the machines' electronic guts, this could be any high-tech repair shop in America. Or so you may think until rolls of concertina wire bristling from the walls remind you of where you are.

Welcome to Huntsville's Wynne Unit, home of one of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's two computer repair labs, where each month inmate workers fix or discard up to 250,000 pounds of malfunctioning equipment.

In Texas, a state whose prison work programs are best known for agriculture and license plates, the computer shops represent the cutting edge of a factory system that produces everything from street signs to mattresses for state college dorms and soap for scrubbing jailhouse floors.
Here's a summary of more common types of TCI labor:
Textile operations remain a big part of prison jobs today. Inmates grow and harvest cotton, then spin and weave it into fabric for use in prison clothing, which they sew. Prisoners each month make 110,000 towels, 120,000 pairs of socks, 85,000 shirts and pants, and 75,000 pairs of underwear.

Prison officials say the cost of inmate clothing purchased through a vendor is $7 to $10; making the same clothing in-house costs about $5.

Workers also refurbish public school buses, re-tread tires, produce signs, banners and departmental awards, build furniture, craft shoes and, of course, make license plates
In some cases, writes reporter Allan Turner, "the most valuable lessons taught are simply how to responsibly keep a job. As many as 40 percent of those inmates entering the TCI program have no work experience."

Participants in TCI work have lower recidivism rates, reports the Chron: "Overall in the 156,000-inmate system, he said, up to 24 percent of those released from prison return within three years. Among the inmate workers who stay on the job the longest, recidivism drops to 11 percent."

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