Nevada Officials Consider Merits Of Inmate Labor

By MATT WOOLBRIGHT

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) â¿¿ The Sandoval administration needs to ensure prison labor programs do not inhibit private sector employment, a former Nevada governor said Tuesday.

Richard Bryan, who also was a U.S. senator, told the Board of Prison Commissioners that the Silver State Industry system needs work. A first step in improving the program could be requiring consultation with private sector interests on contracts with prison industries, Bryan said.

"It ensures prisoners are paid comparable to what they would be worth in the private sector," he said. Without such accountability, prison industries are able to underbid private contractors due to low labor costs, he added.

The program employs inmates and uses a portion of the proceeds to offset some of the costs of incarceration. Proponents call it a valuable, skill-building tool that will help prisoners when they are released from prison, but critics say it comes at a cost to the private sector.

Companies or individuals can contract with the prisons to have inmates perform work in a variety of fields, including woodworking, metal fabrication, and making garments, draperies and mattresses. Two of the more unusual types of work are a horse training division that trains wild horses for adoption, and a motorcycle manufacturing unit that will craft choppers with actual prison bars.

Several witnesses at Tuesday's meeting complained of lost work due to prison labor's cheaper costs.

"I understand prisoners who are working are easier to manage than those that are not, but the kind of work being done displaced tax-paying citizens," said Danny Thompson of the Nevada AFL-CIO.

Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval, who is chairman of the prison board, told The Associated Press after the meeting that the complaints of lost work stem from an isolated incident when a contract was enacted without clearance from the prison board.

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