The hand-soap dispensers in City Hall bathrooms and “Secure Therapy Desks” used to shackle prisoners during class on Rikers Island are just a few of the products made by incarcerated New Yorkers, who earn as little as 16 cents an hour in a $50 million-a-year industry.
The business is called Corcraft, described on its website as “the ‘brand name’ for the Division of Correctional Industries,” operated by the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, known as DOCCS. While Corcraft’s operations are largely hidden behind prison walls, a 2014 DOCCS report says Corcraft “employs approximately 2,100 inmates and 288 civilians in 14 facilities across the state.”
Corcraft averages around $48 million in sales annually, according to the 2014 DOCCS report, a figure confirmed by an independent state comptroller report. Revenue from sales goes into the state general fund.
According to DOCCS’ spokesperson Patrick J. Bailey, the “average Corcraft inmate wage during FY15-16 was 65 cents an hour or about $1,092 per inmate per year.” The lowest Corcraft wage is 16 cents per hour, though some can earn bonuses equal to $1.14 per hour.
At these rates, “Prison labor is prison slave labor,” charges Alex Friedmann, managing editor of Prison Legal News and associate director of the Human Rights Defense Center, a prisoners’ rights advocacy group. “Know anyone else who would work for 65 cents an hour?”
Friedmann says that “if you don’t like the term ‘slave labor,’ then prisoners should be paid a fair wage for their work.”
Besides the desks and the soap dispensers, Corcraft manufactures a wide-range of institutional products, such as state license plates, soap, street signs, janitorial supplies, metal crowd-control barricades used by the NYPD, wooden benches used throughout the state court system, and office furniture, including the “Attica Series Desk”—an office desk named after the notorious prison, which has a sheet-metal fabrication factory behind its walls.
State law requires local governments to purchase commodities from Corcraft if it has a product that satisfies the form, function and utility required. The law, in effect, gives Corcraft monopoly-like power over the state-wide municipal institution market because the law exempts Corcraft from another state law mandating competitive bidding.
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