The Situation in Canada

In Canada, the most common public example of prison industry is CORCAN, a federal corrections initiative. The CORCAN Corporation was created in 1980 to serve as the production and marketing arm of the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) (Correctional Service of Canada, 1997, p. 28). Currently, CORCAN programs operate in 32 institutions across Canada employing 4,000 offenders and 317 staff throughout the year (p. 28). Offenders can earn anywhere from $5.25 to $6.90 per day (p. 29).

CORCAN products are marketed to the public sector: governments, non-profit organizations and educational and health care institutions. “Offenders receive training in the manufacture and provision of products and services such as: office furniture, clothing, shelving, agricultural products, metal fabrication, data entry, digital imaging and telemarketing” (Correctional Service of Canada, 1997, p. 28).

CORCAN operates five main business lines. Correctional Service of Canada (1996) described each of the business lines as follows. The first business line, Agribusiness, operates in ten institutions across Canada. The Agribusiness is involved in the production of agricultural commodities, processing of meat and baked goods, forestry services and environmental services which include composting and reforestation. The second business line, Construction, is involved in over 30 correctional institutions. This program was designed to expand inmate rehabilitation programs to include on-the-job construction training and certification. The third business line, Manufacturing, operates in 17 institutions across Canada. The manufacturing program produces office furniture, storage products, shelving and dormitory furniture, as well as a variety of other wood and metal products. The fourth business line, Services, operates in six institutions and offers printing and graphic services, data entry and data base creation services. The final CORCAN business line is called Textiles. Textiles operates in 14 institutions and is responsible for producing clothing and upholstery and providing laundry services.

Correctional Service of Canada is more interested in cost reduction than profit making. CORCAN does not want to be seen as being in competition with the private sector (Malley, 1992). Ron Loomis, Chief of Occupational and Development Programs, suggested (as cited by Malley, 1992) that by running CORCAN like a business, it would generate revenue to defray the costs of materials, training, marketing, sales and distribution. The volume of business handled by CORCAN is less than one per cent of the overall market (Malley, 1992). While the re-involvement of the private sector in Canada is still progressing cautiously and on a relatively limited scale, the recent significant reorganization of CORCAN indicates that there is a serious government commitment to pursue the joint venture option.

The Situation in the United States

In the 1980s the U.S. saw significant developments in the operation of prison industries (Schloegel, 1993). The U.S. government has continued to strongly encourage private sector involvement in prison industries for almost two decades (Auerbach, 1993). The U.S. not only encourages and assists states and countries to join with the private sector in creating prison industry partnerships, it is also responsible for regulating partnerships to avoid exploitation of prison workers or unfair competitive practices. Prisoners of the past have been victims of extreme exploitation, with prisoners being essentially “sold” to private entrepreneurs (Auerbach, 1993).

All 50 states have some type of prison or jail industry programs (Cox & Osterhoff, 1993). These programs are operated by the state corrections departments. Usually the state correction system provides the working facility for the private firm (Joel, 1993). The state and federal governments have lifted some restrictions to private sector use of prison labour, which has resulted in more than a dozen states contracting out the work of an estimated 1,000 convicts (Joel, 1993).