Improved Prison Work Programs Will Benefit Correctional Institutions and Inmates

GGD-82-37: Published: Jun 29, 1982. Publicly Released: Jun 29, 1982.

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Federal and state correctional institutions operate institutional work programs and industrial work programs to reduce idleness, to provide inmates with marketable job skills and meaningful work experience, and to reduce correctional costs. GAO reviewed these programs to: (1) determine how well these goals are being achieved in federal prisons; and (2) evaluate federal efforts to help the states improve the operation of their prison work programs.

Institutional work is important for the day-to-day operations of prisons, but the typical institutional job does little to enhance inmate work skills. Many more inmates than necessary are assigned to these tasks, which undermines the goal of reducing idleness and results in shortened work schedules and make-work projects. In contrast, the industry work programs, which provide inmates with work experience more relative to outside employment and which help reduce prison costs, were sometimes short of workers. GAO believes that many workers assigned to institutional tasks could be more appropriately employed in existing prison industries and that the industries could be expanded to absorb an even greater number of inmates. However, before this can happen, several problems must be overcome. The Bureau of Prisons does not have systemwide criteria for determining the number of workers needed to perform institutional tasks. In addition, prison industry supervisory personnel have been limited by an administrative personnel ceiling which arbitrarily restricts the number of inmates that could be employed in the industrial programs. Concerns over competition with private businesses for the federal market also hinder expansion. Finally, the quality of the work experience could be improved. Prison industries tend to place more emphasis on teaching good work habits than on developing job skills.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Bureau officials indicated that its policy is that all inmates must work if they are able to. In addition, the Bureau claims that it has expanded significantly the number of inmates involved in institutional work programs, but that there is no formal study underway that examines or monitors inmate efficiency and utilization.

    Recommendation: The Attorney General should require the Director of the Bureau of Prisons to: (1) develop inmate criteria for major institutional work programs based on inmates being involved in full-time, productive employment; (2) monitor inmate assignments to institutional work to ensure that such assignments are in accordance with staffing criteria; and (3) disseminate the results of studies on more efficient utilization of inmates in institutional work programs to all correctional institutions.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Board of Directors of Federal Prision Industries (FPI) should work with the Attorney General and the Commissioner, FPI, to: (1) provide guidance on the federal product market that can appropriately be supplied by industries without overly competing with private industry; (2) develop additional incentives to attract to industries as many inmates as possible who are not required for institutional work; and (3) improve inmate training opportunities through increased emphasis on job skills relevant to those needed for employment in the private sector and by requiring inmate work schedules and productivity levels to more closely emulate those found in the private sector.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice: Bureau of Prisons: Federal Prison Industries, Inc. (UNICOR)

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Justice has formally requested an exemption from the OMB-directed personnel ceiling for FPI. OMB has verbally denied Justice's request and plans to follow up with a written denial.

    Recommendation: The Board of Directors, FPI, should work with the Attorney General and the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to remove constraints on supervisory personnel ceilings for FPI.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice: Bureau of Prisons: Federal Prison Industries, Inc. (UNICOR)

  4. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Justice planned to carry out this recommendation, but budgetary constraints preclude implementation. GAO does not plan to pursue this recommendation further.

    Recommendation: The Attorney General should require the Director of the National Institute of Corrections to collect and disseminate information regarding the operations of the Free Venture and Prison Industry Enhancement Programs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

  5. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: FPI officials indicated that the philosophical basis of the Free Venture Program is a sound one, but its application at the federal level would be impractical. Accordingly, FPI has no plans to pursue the matter further.

    Recommendation: The Attorney General should submit to Congress anticipated future plans for the Free Venture and Prison Industry Enhancement programs, including a proposed designation of agencies to administer the two programs after termination of the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice


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