From the June 2009 Idaho Observer:

The emperor profits from the prisoners’ clothes

Like many states, Arizona (population 6.5 million) is in the middle of a budget crisis. While many state agencies are cutting back on staff, the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) is planning to cut programs intended to help the state by assisting inmates in becoming productive, law-abiding citizens.

The ADC annual budget is just under $1 billion ($944 million). The figure is projected to increase each year for the foreseeable future. The ADC currently houses 27,248 inmates in state-run prison facilities. There are 5,374 inmates warehoused in "provisional" (out of state) facilities and 4,264 inmates held in privately-run prisons. Additionally, over 100 inmates are being held in county jails at any one time.

The estimated bare per year cost per inmate in state-run prisons is $3,531 and $498 in privately-run prisons. An average per-diem of $58 is charged by county jails and other facilities housing ADC inmates.

When you add those numbers up, the annual totals are:

State-run—$96,212,688; Provisional—$2,676,252; Privately run—$231,833; County run—$2,373; Total—$99,123,147

That figure, which represents about 10 percent of the overall budget, could be reduced if policies previously in place were reinstated.

Take clothing and linen for instance. The state is required to provide a certain amount of clothing, linen and toiletries. Most, if not all of these items are made by other inmates. But, instead of directly supplying inmates with clothes made by inmates as required by law, the ADC sells them back to the inmates at a 50 percent to 200 percent profit.

This arrangement was the brainchild of former ADC Director Terry Stewart (1995-2002). He publicly announced that it saves the taxpayers money if he supplied uniforms and linens to inmates. But it did not work out that way.

Where does the money go that ADC makes selling clothes to prisoners for a profit? I could find no records as to where the money goes nor could I find out how much it costs to produce these items. I was, however, able to find the breakdown costs of 20 clothing and linen items and multiplied those figures by the numbers of inmates receiving them and came up with a total $1.474 million (this number would be greater if the ADC supplied inmates to the extent required by law). Prior to this policy, inmates could receive clothing from outside through catalogues or care packages from family. But Stewart’s policy essentially established a for-profit prison clothing and linen monopoly using the prisoners themselves as slave labor.

Now the ADC claims that it must cut back on exchanges for clean, fresh clothing and linen due to budget shortfalls. If prisoners were allowed to procure their own clothing, they would still be able to have fresh, clean clothes and linens with dramatically reduced cost to the taxpayers.

The ADC would also save money by funding programs to reduce recidivism. Putting people in a cage for 10 years and then turning them loose on the streets benefits no one but lawyers.

(Name Withheld)—ADC inmate

Note: This letter provides a glimpse of the institutionalized abuses that have made prison a lucrative, for profit racket for a few, a ripoff for the taxpayers and an ongoing injustice for those doing time in the company store as slave laborers. (DWH)