In the U.S. we have a local workforce of 700,000 people that work for less than a dollar an hour. They make eyeglasses, mattresses, clothing, they man call centers, they do farm work and mine. They are federal prison inmates, and they can be legally hired out for labor by private companies. But the emphasis appears to be on cheap labor rather than vocational training; according to an article in Mother Jones, in 2015 "federal inmates helped bring in nearly $472 million in net sales—but only 5 percent of that revenue went to pay inmates."
In the UK, an open-minded company is employing prison labor in a more conscientious way. Manchester-based Osco Homes, which builds affordable housing, is running a pilot program whereby they sifted through prisoners in their final year of incarceration, selected 10 and trained them to build components for pre-fabricated homes. They also trained them in plaster work, joinery and kitchen and bath installation—all valuable, marketable skills.
They are paid for their labor "over and above what they would usually receive from the prison," according to Construction Manager Magazine, though the actual amount is not revealed. The money is given to them upon release. So is a job: Once they're released they're offered full-time jobs at Osco with a starting salary of £19,000 (about USD $23,250).
"It's not just about building homes, but providing training and opportunities to guys who may have taken a wrong turn in life but are keen to change. With the factory we're providing this two-fold service," [says Mike Brogan, chief executive of Osco parent company Procure Plus.]
"All the guys who have been released are now working on site and improving their skills as well as earning a regular wage. You can see the pride they take in the work and the chances of re-offending for any of them is minimal," says Brogan.
"It's been estimated that the cost of each person not going back to prison saves the government around £17,000 a year, but actually I'd put that figure much higher, which is another reason why this scheme is so important," Brogan adds.
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Thus far four of the 10 inmates has been released and are now working at Osco, completing the project (building bungalows for a site in West Yorkshire, photo above) that they started on the inside. "We learned an awful lot in the factory," says one of the four. "We learned how to put the frames together for the houses, rendering the walls, putting the door and window frames in. It was quite intense but probably what we needed.
"I'm on a salary, have a full-time job and hopefully it'll be a job for life really. I want to be promoted through the company, go from say a site operative to a site manager and I think there's plenty of opportunity, it's just all up to me."
You can read more about the program here.
Microapartments Designed by Italian Prisoners