Editorial: Fix the Hidden Costs Behind Prison Labor

Seattle Times Editorial  Image courtesy washingtonci.com

KEEPING a thousand sets of otherwise idle prisoners’ hands busy is a fine idea. Make them contribute to their own room and board with jobs that offer a carrot for good behavior. As a bonus, they learn job skills that will pay off once they’re released.

Fine idea. But delivering on that promise requires the state Department of Corrections (DOC) to be a shrewd business manager, and that’s where the state agency has struggled, as a three-part Seattle Times investigative series, Sell Block, described this week.

Instead of getting a self-sustaining Correctional Industries program, taxpayers have been quietly stuck with a program that has cost them at least $20 million since 2007.

The red ink propped up a fish farm that hasn’t produced a meal, and a mattress-recycling operation that put prison managers financially in bed with representatives of the mattress industry and had the state stealing work from a well-meaning private nonprofit.

One outcome of the series should be a greater financial transparency. The DOC aspires to have Correctional Industries be self-sufficient. Prove it, or fix practices.

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