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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About Christopher Zoukis, MBA

Christopher Zoukis, MBA, is the Managing Director of the Zoukis Consulting Group, a federal prison consultancy that assists attorneys, federal criminal defendants, and federal prisoners with prison preparation, in-prison matters, and reentry. His books include Directory of Federal Prisons (Middle Street Publishing, 2020), Federal Prison Handbook (Middle Street Publishing, 2017), Prison Education Guide (PLN Publishing, 2016), and College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Company, 2014).

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