Op-Ed

Require firms to pay standard wage for Ky. prison labor

Jeffrey R. Taylor
Jeffrey R. Taylor

Kentucky should not allow private companies to operate factories within correctional facilities, if they pay only minimum wage.

This creates an uneven playing field and an unfair labor market. One way or another, private companies are always looking to get reduced or intrinsically slave labor, which is why they operate in China or Mexico.

If company A, inside prison, is making the same widget for minimum wage, that company B on the open market pays an average industrial wage for, who has the advantage?

Where is the guarantee that records get cleared and that the felon will be employed after they leave prison and their prison job?

Furthermore it takes jobs off of the open market and hurts areas with high unemployment rates. It takes opportunities from people who never committed a crime in free society who need jobs, such as poverty stricken areas in Eastern Kentucky and inner cities.

Many of those residents could use these jobs and would like to have these factories in their communities. This may also result in layoffs on the open market. Why employ felons over displaced coal miners?

Kentucky should offer people better jobs on the front end, and create opportunities for felons already outside of prison. Many cannot even apply at the local auto parts stores, because they do not hire felons.

Safety is an issue. The tools and equipment used in factories are dangerous. If used in prisons they provide opportunities for inmates to create an assortment of weapons for use against fellow inmates and correctional officers.

There must be a carrot added to such legislation, better wages and evaluations that lead to automatic expungement and guaranteed job opportunities that await individuals.

If one leaves a registered felon and companies do not hire felons it does not interrupt the criminal cycle. Felons do not need the ability to work at a factory, most anyone can do that. They need a transferable skill or trade like that learned in union apprenticeships.

The jobs should pay a standard wage. Perhaps give the inmate a minimum wage and use the remaining portion of the standard wage for restitution, state budget or some other public purpose.

Private industry should not get reduced-cost labor on the back of the prison system.

Kentucky needs proactive measures for those who are out or about to get out. We need to broaden felony expungement and create reciprocal agreements with second-chance employers to employ felons outside of prison. Obtaining a tangible skill should be a part of the parole and expungement process.

This boils down to an ounce of prevention being worth more than a pound of cure. Urge your legislators to amend such bills and write in the cures.

Jeffery R. Taylor of Hopkinsville is a former state representative.

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