Industry in prisons has been an ongoing focus of corrections officials in both Canada and the U.S. The growing trend is toward developing inmate industries which operate as viable businesses that compete fairly in the open marketplace. The perception of inmate industries in correctional institutions is changing with the increased attention to industries, combined with the goal of increased financial returns. The demands of economic restraint and rehabilitation-oriented corrections practices are also a driving force behind the changes in the organization and operation of inmate industries. In the 1990s, inmate industries appear to be in a state of transition; attempting to make the shift from being solely corrections operated, make-work warehouses to professionally managed, economically viable businesses capable of competing fairly in the open market.

There are many ways in which the private sector can be involved in corrections industries. Gandy and Hurl (1987) included private sector advisory boards, private vendors, inmate enterprise, private management of government owned industries, franchising and state management of privately owned industries. There can also be privately owned and operated industries.

The Advantages of Prison Industries

The advantages of prison industry programs include the fact that such programs provide productive services to the state or community (Cox & Osterhoff, 1993). These programs also provide a source of income to the inmates and the institution (Cox & Osterhoff, 1993; Shichor, 1994). Therefore, it is an attractive venture for private entrepreneurs as the supply of workers is steady (Shichor, 1994).

It is assumed that privately run prison industries more closely resemble the free world environment and that private industries maintain closer ties with non-corrections industries. Therefore, it is argued that prison industries provide inmates with better opportunities for rehabilitation and improved chances of obtaining employment upon release. It familiarizes inmates with work habits and discipline (Shichor, 1994) and exposes inmates to job skills (Cox & Osterhoff, 1993).

Inmates are eager to work in prison industries. It not only reduces idleness (Cox & Osterhoff, 1993), but there is a belief that prison industries normalize the lives of prisoner workers and the institutions in which they live (Auerbach, 1993). It is assumed that private sector involvement has the potential to change inmate industries from non-productive to custodial institutions filled with productive, industrious workers. Therefore, it is reasonable to expect that industry participation may steer inmates away from misconduct to avoid jeopardizing their jobs (Correctional Service Canada, 1996). Involvement in meaningful activity and positive interaction with civilian supervisors should also tend to increase an inmate’s self-esteem (Correctional Service Canada, 1996).

Grieser (1996) has examined the benefits of private sector involvement in prison industries. There are several potential benefits of such partnerships for correctional industries:

  • increased sales potential and, therefore, the potential for more inmate jobs
  • a real-world work environment for inmates;
  • reduced financial risk;
  • improved access to specialized skills (such as engineering and marketing skills);
  • any public relations benefits generated by the effort to work with the private sector;
  • the ability to establish innovative facility operations; and
  • product name recognition (p. 43).