Prison Labor in California State Prisons

13 March 2018

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) has an incarcerated population of over 150,000 men, women, and juveniles within 35 facilities. The CDCR also manages the state’s prison labor program, which consists of prison maintenance jobs, the California Prison Industry Authority (CALPIA), and the Joint and Free Venture Program.

The majority, approximately 95 percent, of incarcerated laborers in California have prison maintenance jobs, such as laundry, kitchen prep, or janitorial duties. The remaining 5 percent, approximately 7,000 incarcerated people, work for CALPIA.

In 1982, California legislators established CALPIA to reduce the operating cost of the CDCR. CALPIA does not receive an annual budget appropriate from the state and it supports itself through the sale of its goods and services, predominantly to state agencies. CALPIA operates over 100 factories in 34 facilities and produces over 1,400 goods and services, from office furniture to clothing to license plates. The wages range from $0.30 to $0.95 per hour.

In 1990, California passed Proposition 139, also known as the Prison Inmate Labor Initiative. The proposition amended the state constitution to allow private businesses to utilize prison labor, creating the Joint Venture Program (JVP), managed under CALPIA and certified through the Prison Industry Enhancement Certification Program (PIECP). In addition to a low-cost workforce, the businesses that contract with JVP receive tax breaks and are not responsible for providing employee benefits, such as health insurance, sick leave, or vacations. JVP workers receive California’s minimum wage, which is evenly distributed to CDCR (reimbursement for room and board), restitution fines (local crime victim programs), families or court-ordered wage garnishments (e.g. child support), worker’s trust account (available upon release), and worker’s commissary accounts. After these deductions, fines, and family support, incarcerated workers receive 20 percent of their earnings and will receive another 20 percent upon their release.

The Free Venture Program (FVP) operates within juvenile facilities. It was established in 1985 by the California Department of the Youth Authority. The FVP is structured similarly to the JVP and offers employees and employers the same benefits.

From 2009 to 2010, CALPIA claimed to reduce California’s recidivism rate, which was 54 percent, by 26 to 38 percent and claimed that some programs had recidivism rates of 7 percent. The reported recidivism rates saved taxpayers an estimated $9 million annually.

However, in 2010, state auditors found errors in the reporting and calculations of CALPIA’s recidivism rates. There were over 33,000 errors in parolee data entry, including invalid social security numbers and missing employment information. In addition, the state auditors found CALPIA’s indicators used to track post-prison employment were vague and unmeasurable. One indicator used was “real-world performance” but there were no guidelines provided to measure the indicator. As a result of the unreliable data, the state audit argued that CALPIA’s recidivism rate was erroneous and that the savings offered to taxpayers were overstated by $54,000.

Another audit examining the recidivism rates from 2010-2015 was scheduled for 2017.

Working Conditions
There have been numerous Occupational Safety and Health Authority (OSHA) complaints, injuries, and deaths within CALPIA facilities. From 2010 to 2016, there have 11 OSHA complaints filed, 6 coming from the Deuel Vocational Institution in Tracy, CA, a dairy farm. The farm employees

In 2013, OSHA rejected CALPIA’s motion to appeal and upheld a 2008 decision where CALPIA was cited for violations. The citations included employer’s failure to timely report serious injury, failure to develop and utilize written hazardous energy control procedures, failure to provide training for employees on hazardous energy control procedures, and failure to de-energize machine while cleaning duct and exhaust port. Additionally, an audit conducted by the CA Office of Inspector General found that prisoners had unsupervised access to potentially dangerous tools and that the program used and stored hazardous materials with little to no monitoring or supervision.

Through CALPIA, approximately 4,000 incarcerated workers, adults and juveniles, also participate in Fire Camps. The incarcerated workers fight forest fires and do manual labor to prevent forest fires, such as clearing debris. From 2007 to 2017, 3 incarcerated workers have died and 12 have been injured. In 2015, CALPIA considered allowing incarcerated people convicted of violent offenses to participate in the program, which had only previously allowed those convicted of nonviolent offenses to participate, because of a declining prison population and increase in forest fires. While the proposal was struck down, the spokesperson for CALPIA said that it wasn’t ruled out for future consideration.

The JV program partners with small private businesses throughout California. As of late 2016, only five companies are involved in joint ventures with CALPIA. The companies are Merit Partners (N.A. CHAD Youth Correctional Facility in Stockton, CA), Joint Venture Electronics (Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla, CA), Big Dawg (San Quentin in San Rafael, CA), The Last Mile Works (San Quentin in San Rafael, CA), and Barnum (California Correctional Center in Susanville, CA).

Companies previously involved in Joint Venture programs ended their contracts because of issues such as bankruptcy, the economic recession, or went out of business altogether.

From 2010 to 2016, CALPIA  had 168 active contracts from small businesses to major corporations. As of August 9, 2016, CALPIA had filled 4,791 positions of its 7,085 available.

3M Company is one of CDCR’s corporate supplies. 3M holds contracts with CDCR worth over $ 27.6 million dollars for the 2007 - 2019 period. The procurement contracts are for materials such as reflective sheeting and reflective material stickers used in producing license plates.