Prison Industries

More Controversies at Nevada DOC – Director Cox Resigns

More Controversies at Nevada DOC – Director Cox Resigns

In mid-September Nevada Governor, Brian Sandoval asked for the resignation of Gregg Cox, Director of the state Department of Corrections. The action was taken by the Governor because a report about prisoner shootings and abuses by staff in the state’s prisons was late.

The report completed by the Association of State Correctional Administrators was to be presented by Cox at a Tuesday meeting of the Board of Prison Commissioners, which the Governor is a part of.

The governor felt that it was time to move the department in a new direction,” according to a statement from Gov. Brian Sandoval’s office on the departure of Greg Cox. The corrections department is facing several lawsuits due to prison shootings in the past few years.

One incident at High Desert State Prison left inmate Carlos Manuel Perez Jr. dead. Sources say Perez was handcuffed when he was shot and killed, and accuse prison guards of creating a “gladiator-like scenario” by allowing inmate fights to go on before firing into the fray. It wasn’t revealed until four months afterward that Perez died from gunfire.

Earlier in 2013 Cox’s department came under fire for allowing the DOC’s prison industry program to be used by a private company, Alpine Steel and company owner, Randy Bulloch to use inmate labor – without paying them wages.

Alpine Steel owner, Randy Bulloch

Alpine had been able to avoid paying rent, utilities, inmate or staff labor wages for more than a year, running up a tab of nearly $500,000 – while Deputy Director Brian Connett of the NDOC Prison Industry, (Silver State Industries) – turned a blind eye upon the climbing debt, allowing Bulloch’s steel fabrication operation to continue virtually free of overhead, at taxpayer expense. Connett went so far as to approve Alpines new contract with the NDOC, failing to report the back debt owed while reporting Alpine had fulfilled all requirements under the expiring contract.

The facts surrounding the Alpine case began to emerge in late 2012 when steel companies started protesting to NDOC and legislative authorities arguing they were being unfairly forced to compete against a local company using inmate labor. Business owners asserted they had lost bids on projects and thus were unable to expand their businesses or hire more workers due to interference from Nevada’s prison industry operations.

Governor Sandoval eventually stepped in and ordered the closure of the Alpine operation following those complaints. The challenges centered upon unfair competition by a private company using inmate labor to reduce labor costs and thus underbid complainants for lucrative state and private contracts involving fabricated steel materials.

Alpine quickly paid over $78,000 in back wages owed to inmate workers. The NDOC entered into an agreement with Alpine to repay the state the remaining money owed for staff wages, utilities and lease of prison facilities. Surprisingly the agreement had no provision for Mr. Bulloch to be personally responsible for any of the accrued debt owed.

Within months Bulloch defaulted on the terms of the agreement and the state secured a judgment against Alpine for more than $400,000. Alpine also incurred state and federal tax liens for non-payment of income taxes. These totaled more than an additional $680,000.

The taxpayers have been left holding the bag…. As a result of this I think there is going to be a lot more oversight,” Nevada Assemblyman James Ohrenschall said in an interview on Vegas Inc. September 21, 2013. Mr. Ohrenschall is the former chairman of the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee on Industrial Programs. At the time of that interview, the IFC Committee was meeting to investigate facts related to Alpine Steel that prompted his concerns.

Unfortunately Mr. Ohrenschall was too optimistic in his assessment of oversight, but his claim of “taxpayers have been left holding the bag” is still accurate. To date the state has been unable or unwilling to pursue collection of the nearly half million dollar debt owed to taxpayers by Bulloch and his company.

Though Bulloch voluntarily surrendered his contracting license to the Nevada Contractors Board in October 2013, saying he was closing down his business…Alpine Steel’a website remains open for business while the company owner continues to avoid paying the state any of the money owed taxpayers under the court ordered judgment. Additionally, along with the Alpine website still showing it is an active business, Mr. Bulloch is now selling structural steel and fabricated components as Hunt Steel, also in Las Vegas. Links to fabrication, etc. on the Alpine site, takes visitors to Bulloch’s Hunt Steel site.

Director Cox managed to retain his position after the Legislature enacted new revisions to existing Nevada law to prevent potential or new industry operators from starting up without posting a surety bond to guarantee payment of leases and utilities owed to the state. Known as Senate bill 478, this law also provides that the public be notified of any potential new prison industry proposals, to date there has been no such notice given to the public or possible competitors though there have been new industries proposed to the Interim Finance Committee on Industrial Programs.

Just prior to Cox taking over as Director in 2011 he was a Deputy Director when the prison industries “wrote off” more than $800,000 in outstanding noncollectable debt owed to the Prison Industry Program. With Alpine’s additional $428,000, Nevada taxpayers have lost more than $1.2 million dollars. The now pending lawsuits against the NDOC, it’s staff and officers, could result in another $1 million or more needed to settle inmate abuse and shooting claims and/or court judgments.

It appears Director Cox avoided one serious controversy involving a lack of transparency only to succumb to another controversy involving transparency before the same Board of Prison Commissioners that again, included Governor Sandoval.

Nevada Prison Industry Administrative Rules Now in Place

Nevada Prison Industry Administrative Rules Now in Place

by Bob Sloan

silver state industries

Following a full year of investigating complaints and revising Nevada’s prison industry program statute(s), a new Administrative Rule (AR 854) regulating the operation of that state’s prison industry operation has been submitted to the Board of Prison Commissioners (BPC) by NDOC Director, Greg Cox.  In December this regulation was adopted and became effective.

Sen. Richard Bryan

Sen. Richard Bryan

In October the NDOC submitted a long list of new or amended AR’s to the BPC for approval and implementation.  At that time Cox withheld the proposed AR 854 addressing the operation of the agency’s prison industry operations.  Cox held back on this single AR by advising the Board he wanted to work with former Senator Richard Bryan on the language of that particular regulation.

On December 17th Director Cox submitted the final negotiated regulation to BPC members, Governor Sandoval, AG Masto and Secretary of State, Ross Miller for consideration.  Following approval by the Board, the new prison industry regulations are now in effect.

Cox-listens-to-testimony-crop

NDOC Dir. Cox

Critics and opponents of the prison industry program have now adopted a position of “monitoring” the state’s prison industry program. They’re doing so in an effort of ensuring there are no further infringements upon Nevada’s workers and businesses that compete against prison industries.  Last year it was discovered that the NDOC regulations were not being fully enforced and state statutes controlling prison industry operations were insufficient to protect both Nevada’s private sector workers and competing non-prison partnered businesses.

Alpine SteelAll of this came about after lawmakers, the media and general public learned that the prison industry program was more or less operating without any real oversight.  This allowed the NDOC to “partner” with a local Las Vegas business – Alpine Steel, LLC –  in a manner that provided that business with an unfair advantage over competitors and reduced the number of available private sector jobs.  Not only did this single business enjoy prison labor far below standard wage rates, but it also received low cost taxpayer subsidized utility costs and lease terms for state owned property that was far below the state averages. Additionally the NDOC failed to enforce most of the terms of the contract it had with Alpine, allowing the company to default on paying the salaries of NDOC staffers, prison workers and monthly lease payments or utility costs and making no effort to cure the defaults.

When this partnership was finally terminated by Governor Sandoval and the smoke cleared, the state was left with an owed debt of nearly half a million dollars.  Alpine’s owner entered into a negotiated agreement to repay the state but almost immediately defaulted, leaving taxpayers on the hook for hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid leases, staff salaries, utility costs and owed taxes.  This failed partnership resulted in the revamping of the state’s statutes controlling Nevada’s existing prison industries and all proposed new industries.

During the lengthy legislative activities related to the failed Alpine partnership, other issues were discovered that prison labor activists are continuing to pursue at both state and federal levels.  These include the hourly wages paid to inmate workers in the program, deductions taken from prisoner paychecks and working conditions.

Nevada is a participant in a federally run program (Prison Industries Enhancement Certification Program or PIECP) that encourages prison industry/private business partnerships such as the one involving Alpine.   However in order to establish and operate under such partnerships both the state and the private business must agree to abide by stringent mandatory conditions required by the federal government.  Two of the imposed mandatory requirements are that inmates be paid prevailing wages and that the state can only take approved deductions from those wages.  In the case of Alpine, the contract with the state required that inmate workers receive “prevailing wages” (section 8.6) or the same wage paid to private sector workers performing the same duties on the outside.  Instead, the NDOC and Alpine set the inmate wage rate at or below the state minimum wage scale, exploiting the labor of inmate workers and further enriching Alpine.

Subsequently it now appears Nevada is underpaying inmates working in the federal program and taking an unapproved deduction of 5% to fund new prison industry operations.  In effect Nevada’s inmate workforce are being made to fund operating expenses of the prison industry out of their already meager wages.

DD ConnettPrison labor advocates are attempting to work with the NDOC, Nevada authorities and the responsible federal agency to cure any purported violations regarding the PIECP program to ensure Nevada is in full compliance with current state and federal provisions regarding the use of inmate labor.

Currently the Deputy Director of the NDOC’s Prison Industry, Brian Connett has indicated there are no proposed new industries being considered by the agency. However prior to the furor caused by the Alpine situation, Connett was advocating for a new industry in Nevada operated by a California company. The operation would have used inmate labor at minimum wages to sort through collected trash and remove recyclables. The collection of trash and refuse across the state would have been accomplished by the same California company.  This project was moving forward over objections voiced by the labor representative of the Senate’s Interim Finance Committee on Industrial Programs, Mr. Mike Magnani.  This recycling “industry” was tabled once the Legislature began looking into the prison industry operations.

CONWAY ROBERT PDBusinesses and a second labor representative, Rob Conway now sitting upon the legislative Interim Finance Committee will continue to monitor activities of the prison industry to eliminate the possibility of another situation arising that could jeopardize business owners or private workers.  Additionally the amended statute requires the Board of Prison Commissioners to review and approve any new industries or expansion of existing ones.  Hopefully vigilance by the labor representatives will keep the prison industries and expanded partnerships in check and allow more of Nevada’s unemployed to find employment due to the reduction in new prison labor programs that eliminated positions in the past.

Only time will tell if the new regulations prevent another Alpine-styled incident from reoccurring.

Slavery in Nevada?  Yes, According to Assemblyman Jim Wheeler – and NDOC

Slavery in Nevada? Yes, According to Assemblyman Jim Wheeler – and NDOC

by Bob Sloan

Over the past year I made several trips to Nevada, wrote numerous articles and interviewed dozens on the topic of Nevada’s prison industry working inmates without pay.

Under a contract between Alpine Steel, LLC and the Nevada Department of Corrections’ (NDOC) Silver State Industries (prison industry program) inmates were made to work for as much as four years without receiving any wages from Alpine.  During that time frame, many of Nevada’s unemployed steel workers were denied jobs due to the use of inmates to perform Alpine’s steel fabrication production.  Other businesses were harmed by this contract as they could not compete against a competitor with little or no labor costs when bidding on projects.

Late last year the Board of Prison Commissioners ordered the closure of the prison industry operation run by the NDOC and Alpine Steel.  At the time of the closure, Alpine’s owner, Randall Bulloch, acknowledged he had failed to pay the prisoner’s wages and agreed to pay $78,000 in back wages owed to prisoners by November 2012 .  Alpine still owes the state nearly a half million dollars in unpaid leases, utilities and wages for NDOC Supervisory personnel after agreeing to repay the state and defaulting on that agreement as well last June.  Alpine eventually agreed to voluntarily surrender its contractor’s license to the state and steps are being taken to attempt to recover the huge debt still owed to Nevada taxpayers.

Throughout I believe I accurately described the act of forcing state prisoners to work for a for-profit company without pay as “Slave Labor.”  Though this story has blossomed into one reported nationally and internationally, most have concentrated upon the issue of a lack of proper state oversight, the NDOC using tax dollars to subsidize a private business and misuse of state tax dollars by the prison industry division.

Most of the media totally ignored the fact that the employees actually performing hours of work under the contract between the state and Alpine, were not compensated for their labor by the company.  Though this and other important clauses were in the actual contract, Alpine was allowed to default without enforcement by the NDOC Director or Deputy Director.  Without the complaints and objections voiced by organized labor and business owners, this arrangement would be continuing with state prisoners being deliberately exploited for their labor.

Though NDOC officials have a duty to provide “Care, Custody and Control” of those incarcerated within Nevada’s prison system, administrators failed to protect Alpine’s inmate workers from exploitation of their labor.  Agency officials in fact condoned such acts by their refusal to enforce the contract provisions requiring  inmates to be paid “prevailing wages” by Alpine.  In effect the NDOC was acting as a labor contractor for private companies, providing a captive labor force for a handful of select businesses.  A captive workforce without an ability to voice complaints, quit or refuse to work when not paid.  Prisoners also have no say in the wage scale, work conditions or safety requirements in their workplace.

Many thought this to be simply a case involving a lack of oversight or enforcement by a state agency and its administration.  However when this story broke and the dust settled, the legislature passed new laws strengthening the state’s statutes involving prison industries and the use of inmate labor. Governor Sandoval signed the legislation into law, effective July 1, 2012.

While this new law protects other businesses and organized labor in Nevada, it does nothing to ensure prisoners are compensated for their labor when employed by private companies.  With the Alpine contract that company was required to pay prevailing wages to the inmate workers.  Instead they were paid minimum wage or less – and for years received no wages at all – and used in place of Nevada’s unemployed private sector workers.

wheelerWhen the actual vote was taken on this new law by the Nevada Assembly, there were only three dissenting votes against it.  One of those voting in opposition to SB 478 was Nevada Assemblyman, Jim Wheeler (R-Gardnerville).  It appeared Wheeler was content with the status quo of allowing the NDOC to work prisoners under contract to private companies without paying them required wages.  In essence he would sanction continuing such slave labor…

More recently Assemblyman Wheeler has come under fire for voicing similar sentiments on common slavery in Nevada, saying, “I’d Bring Back Slavery If Constituents Wanted…”  Since a YouTube video of Wheeler speaking at a Republican gathering and making that statement surfaced, Nevada Democrats, Governor Sandoval and others have denounced Wheeler, with some properly calling for his resignation.

Wheeler’s “constituents” however are backing him.  The Douglas County, Nevada Republican Central Committee issued a “Resolution Supporting Nevada Assemblyman Jim Wheeler“, in which they proclaim:

WHEREAS, Assemblyman Jim Wheeler has come under attack by forces employing unethical pressure in an attempt to manipulate Nevada’s Legislature, diluting the voice of The People; and

WHEREAS, Assemblyman Jim Wheeler has honored the trust placed in him by his constituents by keeping faith with The Nevada Republican Party Platform and honoring his oath of office; and

WHEREAS, The People of Douglas County, under the Nevada Constitution, firmly assert our exclusive rights to select our representatives to be our voice and advocate for our rights and interests; and

WHEREAS, The continued intentional misrepresentation of statements and positions of our elected representatives, as well as exertion of unwarranted pressure to resign, violate the constitutional rights of The People of Douglas County to choose our representatives, and must end now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the Douglas County Republican Central Committee offers its strongest, unqualified support to Assemblyman Jim Wheeler for the leadership example he displays in representing The People of the Great State of Nevada; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, That the Douglas County Republican Central Committee gives notice to all that The People of Douglas County choose their representatives, and that no longer will we ignore the corporate, media, and other interests that seek to undermine the will of The People by unethically twisting the message of our elected officials; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, That the Chairman of the Douglas County Republican Central Committee will ensure that this resolution is transmitted to Nevada Assembly Republican Caucus.

Adopted this 1st day of November, 2013 by the Douglas County Republican Central Committee Executive Board.

Obviously this Republican “Committee” supports Wheeler – and apparently takes no umbrage that he would agree to introduce legislation allowing out-and-out slavery if that is what Republican’s of Douglas County determined was appropriate.

As with other politicians over the years who have uttered reprehensible statements, Wheeler has tried hard to put a spin on the facts of his utterance and his District 39 Committee is attempting to assist in that by accusing the “corporate media” of undermining the “will of The People” and twisting Wheeler’s words.

What Wheeler and the Douglas County Republican’s don’t get is that the Assemblyman’s excuse that he was just trying to exhibit that he would do whatever his constituents wanted, demonstrates he would be amenable to mob rule.  That is precisely what would happen if a lawmaker’s constituents insisted he/she introduce legislation wanted by them over objections or concerns of others.  An elected lawmakers must weigh all the facts, look at issues logically and make legislative decisions based upon all factors – not simply the will or whim of his constituents.  Voters in one small area may support one issue completely, while the remainder of the state opposes it.  Attempting to apply the will of a small minority upon the majority would be attempting to legislate by mob rule.

So Nevada – one of the last states to join the Union and a state that never involved itself in slavery – finds itself in the headlight of the “racist” topic that has been on our national radar since 2008.  While political factions and groups in other states have argued over whether voter ID laws sought by predominantly GOP controlled states is racist, denying votes to minorities, Nevada remained absent in that conversation.  Maybe Nevada Republicans now seek to join their voice to those of others on an issue such as slavery, weighing in on that topic – right or wrong.

In 21st century America, the concept of and very term “slavery” should be extinct, not being raised for the first time in Nevada.  Hopefully the NDOC will stop using prisoners as a private slave labor workforce for select businesses and companies – and legislators such as Jim Wheeler will stop making such inflammatory statements in the future.

In today’s political arena a lawmaker sitting with fellow legislators of all races who utters a statement such as Wheeler did, must make fellow Assemblymen/women uncomfortable – especially African-Americans and Hispanics.  Perhaps he should resign his post and let Douglas County select someone else to represent them in the Assembly…someone less inclined to inflame other members of the Assembly and voters from outside Douglas County.

Case Study on Alpine Steel: Prison Industry Subsidized by Taxpayers to Compete with Local Businesses Fails Spectacularly

Case Study on Alpine Steel: Prison Industry Subsidized by Taxpayers to Compete with Local Businesses Fails Spectacularly

by Bob Sloan – Cross-Posted from PRWatch

“The taxpayers have been left holding the bag…. As a result of this I think there is going to be a lot more oversight.”

Private prison profitsThose were statements made by Nevada Assemblyman James Ohrenschall in an interview on Vegas Inc. September 21. Mr. Ohrenschall is the former chairman of the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee on Industrial Programs. At the time of that interview, the IFC Committee was meeting to investigate facts that prompted his concerns.

Ohrenschall was speaking of prison labor and Nevada prison industry’s partnership with Alpine Steel, LLC, that has resulted in nearly half a million dollars of debt owed to the state and a legislative reform of the state’s prison industry program.

When Vegas Inc. anchor Dana Gentry asked the Assemblyman if Nevada’s Department of Corrections (NDOC) or prison industry officials were being held accountable in any way, he responded, “I believe that they will be held accountable…” The oversight authority for prison industries is the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee on Industrial Programs (IFC-IP). Critics had accused the committee of not providing sufficient oversight or vetting of NDOC contracts with private companies and not enforcing compliance with key statutory duties of the committee. The Committee served, more or less, to “rubber stamp” proposals brought before it by the NDOC without fully determining the impact a new proposed industry would have on Nevada workers and competing businesses.

The Nevada labor force is now represented by two members on the IFC: Robbie Conway of Ironworkers Local 433 and Mike Magnani of Teamsters Local 986. With their dedication to protecting the rights and jobs of Nevada’s workers, it is likely that situations similar to the one involving Alpine will not reoccur.

After the investigation of Alpine Steel, members of the IFC appear to realize that prison labor competing for jobs needed by Nevada’s unemployed is a serious issue that needs constant vigilance. Doubling the number of labor representatives on the committee overseeing prison industries is expected to improve oversight.

With the addition of Conway to the Committee and a new Chairman, the current IFC appears to be a genuine “oversight” body now. They asked key questions, probed for responsive answers and asked IFC member Cox and Deputy Director Connett to provide materials to them supporting answers they provided to the Committee at the initial meeting on the 20th.

Despite Huge Subsidies (and Prison Labor) Alpine Steel Incurs Big Debt

The sad saga of prisoners being used for their labor by private contractors in Nevada continues to amaze the citizens of this state.

Randy Bulloch, CEO of Alpine Steel

Alpine Steel, LLC owner, Randy Bulloch

The story began late last year when steel companies began protesting to NDOC and legislative authorities saying they were being unfairly forced to compete against a local company using inmate labor. Business owners asserted they had lost bids on projects and thus were unable to expand their businesses or hire more workers due to interference from Nevada’s prison industry operations.

Claims were made that dozens of Las Vegas steel workers were being denied jobs and others possibly displaced due to the use of prisoners as a slave-labor force by Alpine Steel, LLC. The NDOC had given Alpine’s owner, Randy Bulloch, a “sweetheart deal” consisting of inmate wage scale set at or below minimum wage (less than 1/2 of the current prevailing wage for Nevada’s steel workers), manufacturing facility leases (set at 66% below the going rate for such space outside prison), and utility costs at NDOC’s reduced rates.

Such state subsidies provided Alpine with a definite advantage over competitors when bids were sought for new projects in and around Las Vegas. Bids won by Alpine due to reduced overhead costs provided by the NDOC included: the “SkyVue Observation Wheel“, the Wet ‘n’ Wild water theme park, bridge work on an overpass over I-15, and the expansion of a mental hospital, among dozens more since 2006.

5th St. bridge over I-15, Las Vegas

5th St. bridge over I-15, Las Vegas

As this story unfolded earlier this year, it was discovered that in spite of receiving the huge financial benefits mentioned above, Alpine was in arrears on payments for inmate wages, staff salaries, utility costs, leases, and workers compensation premiums. In essence, the evidence suggested that the bulk of Alpine’s Las Vegas operation was being quietly financed by the NDOC with state tax dollars.

In addition, prison industry critics learned the IRS had recorded a lien of more than $600,000 dollars against the company; a tax lien had also been filed by the state DOR and several steel suppliers had placed liens against Alpine for failing to pay for materials. (These liens continue to pile up: last month, the IRS recorded a second tax lien upon the company for more than $30,000.)

The story became public through the media and in December 2012 — under pressure from the Board of Prison Commissioners (BPC) and an order from Governor Sandoval — NDOC Director Greg Cox closed down Alpine’s steel fabrication operation at the High Desert State Prison complex. Members of the BPC and the IFC-IP called for some form of personal guarantee from Bulloch to ensure the taxpayers were not left on the hook for nearly half a million dollars owed by Alpine.

Estate of Alpine Steel CEO Randy Bulloch

Randall Bulloch’s estate in Summerlin

In January, Connett and Bulloch reached an agreement on repaying the money Alpine owed to the state. Connett negotiated through Deputy Attorney General Carrie Parker on AG Catherine Cortez Masto’s staff and got her to approve a proposed forbearance agreement setting the Alpine debt at $438,000+ with no interest, penalties or additional fines.

Incredibly, the terms of the agreement failed to include any personal guarantee from Alpine’s owner Bulloch — who resides in a multi-million dollar, 9,400 square foot, guarded and gated estate — while owing millions in state, federal and personal liens — much of that owed to taxpayers.

Though many including the Interim Finance Committee and Secretary of State had demanded such a provision, the final document left any personal guarantee out of the agreement. If a default occurred, Randy Bulloch’s personal property and other assets would be untouchable — and the debt likely uncollectable. The substantial IRS lien precedes and takes precedence over the newly filed NDOC summary judgment, making it less likely the state will be able to recover any of the outstanding debt until the IRS lien is satisfied.

It is incomprehensible to most that in the face of more than a million dollars owed to the IRS, creditors and the state of Nevada, the NDOC would negotiate an agreement on additional debt owed by Alpine without seeking any form of personal guarantee from the company’s owner. Similarly it defied belief that a member of the AG’s staff failed to demand such a personal guarantee for the debt, knowing the repayment plan was being sought for a company that was already in deep financial trouble.

The Alpine contract is at the core of this problematic situation involving the use of state owned facilities and prisoner labor. The NDOC failed to take appropriate action to cure Alpine’s continued default for more than three years. Incredibly, Connett issued a new contract to Alpine in 2011 while the company was in serious default — without requiring the company to come current on its debt — and the IFC-IP approved the contract without knowing of the default(s).

Allowing a contractor to operate for more than four years without making required payments and taking no steps to stop the bleeding of tax dollars before renewing a contract, demonstrates a total lack of responsibility to the state administration and the taxpayers.

Only after the story broke in the media was the Governor, the IFC members and the BPC made aware of the full amount owed due to nonpayment(s). With Attorney General Cortez-Masto sitting on the BPC, the absence of any personal guarantee from Bulloch in the forbearance agreement signed off on by her agency is puzzling.

The NDOC Defends Alpine and Dodges Questions about the Money Due

NDOC Director James "Greg" Cox

NDOC Director James “Greg” Cox

The NDOC’s Director Cox was contacted about details of this debt and any related negotiations. His office forwarded the query to NDOC Deputy Director Brian Connett, who is also the NDOC Public Information Officer. Connett is also the current chairman of the board of the “National Correctional Industries Association” (NCIA), which oversees the Prison Industry Enhancement Certification Program (PIECP).

As of press time, both the Director and Deputy Director have declined to respond. In the discussion at the IFC meeting on the 20th, Connett and Cox specifically directed the members and public to address questions to the AG’s office for a response.

Due to the costly default by Alpine, the state Senate proposed legislation — SB 478 — to amend the rules governing the IFC (NRS 209.461). In addition to adding a second labor representative to the IFC, the bill created a new provision requiring any company wishing to contract with the prison industry program to post a personal guarantee, surety or bond of not less than 100% of the pro-rated annual amount of the contract.

The measure passed and became effective July1, 2013. The NDOC was told to propose new administrative regulations to comply with the changes at the upcoming October 15 meeting of the Board of Prison Commissioners (BPC).

The NDOC’s prison industries (PI) accounts receivable increased rapidly in 2009 to nearly $900,000.

In 2010, the prison industry turned over more than $800,000 in accounts receivable to a collection agency and, for fiscal year 2012, it claimed an additional outstanding accounts receivable balance of $614,200 for a combined potential loss of $1.4 million in revenue in just two years of operations.

On September 20th, the new IFC-IP held its first meeting following the end of the biennial session. One of the main items on that agenda was the discussion of Alpine Steel and the debt owed to the state and state taxpayers.

NDOC Deputy Director Brian Connett

NDOC Deputy Director of Prison Industries, Brian Connett

NDOC Deputy Director Brian Connett read a prepared statement regarding Alpine Steel to the Committee:

“I will read the statement that we have in regards to addressing Alpine Steel…”

“The prison industry has been working very closely with our deputy attorney general and the attorney general’s office on the Alpine Steel situation through our counsel. PI entered into a forbearance agreement with Alpine Steel in January. Basically the terms were that Alpine would make $5,000 monthly payments with balloon payments of a minimum of $20,000 due at the end of June and at the end of December. Alpine made their monthly payments for February through June. Those payments totaled $25,000. Alpine could not make their balloon payment due at the end of June.”

“Again, working with our DAG [Deputy Attorney General], an amendment to the forbearance agreement was created. It amended the balloon payment due to a minimum payment of $10,000 that was due no later than August 30th and an additional minimum payment of $10,000 that was due no later than October 15th.”

“Alpine defaulted on their $5,000 payment due July 15th [and] our DAG and the prison industries quickly filed a summary judgment against Alpine Steel as a result of the breach. The state has been awarded a summary judgment against the Alpine Steel for $428,208 plus post judgment interest growing at the rate of 1/2 percent per month. So being a state agency, this judgment creates a lean on the Alpine’s real and personal property. The collection of these has been turned over to the state controller’s office for the collection process. Thank you.”

Under questioning from Committee members, NDOC’s Deputy Director Connett and NDOC’s Director Cox at times gave somewhat evasive answers.

For example, when asked point blank if any of Nevada’s prisoner-made products were “exported” out of state, Connett responded that state services were the prison industry’s largest customer.

On another matter, they admitted that Alpine’s equipment was still in place at the “High Desert State Prison” (HDSP), saying Alpine had been “locked out” of the facility since December and the NDOC was actively attempting to rent the space to another contractor. Apparently these officials are comfortable with losing a potential $5,000 per month in lease income by keeping the space filled with Alpine’s equipment.

Connett’s new demeanor concerning Alpine has done an about-face of late. Previously, Deputy Director Connett had appeared at several hearings and meetings in support of Alpine, advocating that the company and its prison labor program be kept open, even in the face of the increasing debt. Connett was the sole defender of Alpine in the media and before the BPC and IFC hearings. He now no longer speaks favorably of Alpine in public.

The newest IFC member, Robbie Conway, asked how long it had been since Alpine had been at the prison shop. Director Cox indicated he’d shut the operation down on December 23, 2012, but he did not confirm that Alpine had not been there after that date. Conway went on to ask, “Are we certain that Alpine’s equipment is wholly owned by them or is there is a chance that it is in debt also?”

Connett answered: “There may be some questions on the ownership of some of that property out there.”

Director Cox quickly added: “It is clear and it’s my understanding there is property out there that does not belong to Alpine. So before anything is released, it will go though the attorney general’s office and go through the process.”

Connett added he had inventoried Alpine’s equipment but had failed to secure an appraisal of it.

In a situation such as this where a substantial debt has been incurred, with an ongoing default on a contract and equipment has been seized and being held as collateral against that debt, an evaluation of the “collateral” should be secured quickly to determine the actual financial risk at stake if a judgment results.

Alpine had been in arrears for several years when the NDOC closed down the prison project last December due to the outstanding debt. It is more than odd under those circumstances that since December the NDOC failed to determine the value of the collateral they hold against a $428,000 debt. Now finding that some of the equipment seized and held is not even owned by Bulloch or Alpine puts the state in an even more untenable position to recover the debt.

Key Questions about the Debt Owed Taxpayers Remain Unanswered

Unfinished Alpine Steel SkyVue Observation Wheel

View of stalled SkyVue Observation Wheel project

In response, the Deputy Attorney General — with whom the NDOC has been working on the Alpine case, as noted by Connett’s statement — was asked the following questions that NDOC had failed to answer:

  1. Did the Deputy Director of the NDOC, Mr. Connett and Alpine owner, Mr. Bulloch, negotiate the terms and conditions of the forbearance agreement and then seek approval from the AG’s office?
  2. If the answer is no, that the AG’s office negotiated the terms, did your office seek a personal guarantee from Mr. Bulloch on the debt owed?
  3. In the face of multiple ongoing liens, defaults and creditor/vendor litigation(s) against Alpine Steel, did you suggest a condition that a personal guarantee from Mr. Bulloch be included to ensure repayment should a default occur?
  4. Has anyone come forth and filed a claim of ownership on any of the equipment held by the NDOC at HDSP? [S]ome of the equipment seized by the NDOC as collateral on the debt owed by Alpine has been determined to be the property of a third party. If this is factual, will your office release any Alpine equipment that is claimed by another individual or company?
  5. With IRS and other liens pre-dating the summary judgment awarded to the state last month, will any assets owned by Alpine and held as collateral by the NDOC first go to satisfy those preexisting liens? If so how does the state intend to recover the loss of the $428,000+ debt of Alpine?

The official response from the AG’s office came from its Public Information Officer, Jennifer Lopez:

“My colleague Carrie L. Parker, Deputy Attorney General, Bureau of Government Affairs, mentioned you had questions about Alpine Steel, LLC, Randall Bulloch and the Nevada Dept. of Corrections. We have discussed your question and think because you are seeking attorney-client privileged information, it is best for you to direct this inquiry to Silver State Industries,” which is part of NDOC.

So the “official” response redirects inquiries back to the NDOC which has already directed questions to the AG’s office. Between the two agencies, it appears that in the Alpine matter transparency is non-existent and deliberately so.

During the meeting Connett stated that the PI’s accounts receivable is now $119,567.66 — which would represent a serious decrease from 2012. However, the debt owed by Alpine has been not been collected.

Although the past due account shows a marked recovery, that may be an illusion. Alpine’s $428,208 has merely been transferred from one state department to another state department creating the appearance that PI is recovering financially. The loss of nearly half a million tax dollars still exists but is no longer on PI’s books. Adding Alpine’s default amount to the AR figure provided by Connett shows that without transferring Alpine’s debt, PI’s accounts receivable would be $547,775.66, not significantly different from 2012’s levels.

Earlier this year, Alpine’s license with the Nevada State Contractors Board (NSCB) was reduced to $500,000, but the NSCB allowed Alpine to remain in business.

Despite multiple defaults to the IRS, Nevada’s Department of Taxation, the NDOC contract, vendor invoices and payments on worker’s compensation payments, Alpine has continued to operate, putting out bids on new projects even as Bulloch lays off Alpine employees. Some of those let go have stated that they worked for the company at reduced wages and without receiving overtime due them.

Will Alpine Steel’s License Be Revoked on October 9?

NSCB was asked if that agency is considering revocation of Alpine’s license. NSCB’s Public Information Officer, Jennifer Turner  responded:

“Alpine Steel is scheduled to come before the Board October 9, at which time it is requested they voluntarily surrender their license.”

The NCSB appears to be the sole state agency/department that has decided enough is enough and has taken less than eight months to “cure” Alpine’s non-compliance with state law and hold the company and its owner personally responsible for their actions in some way.

Had the NDOC and the Attorney General’s office adopted the same position months ago, perhaps the amount of the debt owed by Alpine would be guaranteed by Bulloch, providing some hope to taxpayers that the more than half a million dollars owed would be recovered.

It remains to be seen if members of the BPC will ask tough questions — similar to those previously posed to the NDOC and AG’s office — at the upcoming meeting on the 15th. Perhaps they will get complete answers to important questions regarding how and when the state can recover the Alpine debt.

After the Board of Prison Commissioners meeting on the 15th of October, a follow-on article will be published. With the introduction of the new regulations and the removal of Alpine from the prison industry program, perhaps the Alpine saga will finally be put to rest.

Labor and Business Win Prison Industry Battle

Labor and Business Win Prison Industry Battle

By Bob Sloan

Today prison industries are booming with hundreds of thousands of prisoners employed in factories manufacturing a myriad assortment of products and providing services such as call centers, customer service, marketing, reservations and manual labor for municipalities.  Thousands of American workers have been displaced by companies choosing low paid prisoners as a labor force.  Many of these companies realize additional profits from subsidized leases for state manufacturing facilities within prison compounds.  This has been the trend since 1999 but today, as a Burl Ives lyric proclaims, “times, they are a changin’…”

Nevada represents the latest resistance to prison programs taking jobs out of the private sector and allowing unfair competition between private businesses where one company has access to low paid prisoners for their private workforce.

On May 29th legislation reining in control of Nevada’s prison industry program, passed the state Senate and was sent to the desk of Governor Brian Sandoval.  On June 1 the Governor signed the new legislation and it becomes law in Nevada on July1, 2013.  The introduction, passage and signing into law of this necessary legislation is a huge victory for opponents of prison industry programs in the U.S. – and signals to other states the need for similar vigilance of prison industrial programs.

Sen Smith 4-29

Senator Debbie Smith

Known as Senate Bill (SB) 478, the Nevada legislation was introduced and sponsored by the Senate’s Interim Finance Committee as a means of tightening controls over Nevada’s prison industry partnerships. Author of the bill was Senator Debbie Smith, Chair of the Senate Finance and Interim Finance Committees.

Private companies (union and non-union) joined ranks with union leaders in support of changing state laws regarding prison industry operations in Nevada.  

Sen. Richard Bryan

Sen. Richard Bryan

Former Nevada Governor and U.S. Senator, Richard Bryan, met several times with the state Board of Prison Commissioners and appeared before both Senate and Assembly committee meetings where he argued that necessary changes must be made to the existing prison industry regulations.

Senator Bryan was not involved in the actual writing or introduction of this measure (Senate Bill 478), but in interviews he stated he supported the proposed original legislation as it would open the program to needed transparency that would limit unfair competition complained of by workers and businesses in Nevada.  The Senator has not spoken publicly since the legislation was amended and passed, so it is unknown if he continues to fully support the amended language of SB 478.

Danny Thompson

AFLCIO Exec. Sec. Treasurer, Danny Thompson

sb 478 hearing conway

Ironworkers Local 433 Bus. Agent, Robbie Conway

Support also came from the AFLCIO, the local Ironworkers union and several law enforcement unions.  The AFLCIO’s Executive Secretary Treasurer, Danny Thompson and Ironworkers Local 433 Business Agent, Robbie Conway were the most vocal and outspoken union representatives on the prison industry issue.  Both made appearances before the Board of Prison Commissioners, the Nevada Senate and Assembly at hearings and meetings to object to the use of inmate labor to openly compete for the jobs of unemployed Nevada workers.

While both Thompson and Conway objected to prisoners being used by private companies to compete against other private businesses and workers, they were very concerned about the safety of Nevadans from projects built using prisoners in a “training program”.  One such project was the bridge over Interstate 15 in North Las Vegas.  Another is the Wet ‘N Wild water park project being built in Summerlin.  A third is the SkyVue Wheel on the Las Vegas strip.

wet n wild

SkyVue pic

All of these projects were scheduled to be built with structural steel components manufactured by prisoners working in a prison industry training program located at High Desert State Prison.  That was the intent until the public became informed about the use of prisoners manufacturing key structural components for such projects and in response the Governor ordered the closure of the prison industry where the steel was made.

This state action in Nevada follows similar legislative amending in Texas in 2009-2010 after businesses complained of unfair competition from prison industry operations there.  The Texas circumstances are nearly identical with a situation that consequently evolved in Nevada just three years later.

Lufkin Industry’s trailer division was shut down due to an undisclosed operation by a prison company making the same products and selling them competitively in Lufkin’s market.  Following this discovery, the Texas legislature enacted laws to protect workers and competitors from prison operated industries using inmate labor.

This legislative session, Nevada was forced to take similar steps to protect workers and business owners from suffering the same fate as workers in Texas.

Silver State Industries (SSI), operated by the Nevada Department of Corrections (NDOC) enters into contracts with private companies to allow the use of inmates as a labor force for manufacturing goods.  Previously these partnerships were developed quietly with a total lack of transparency or notice to competing companies regarding any possible impact upon private business or Nevada’s unemployed workers competing for business or jobs.

Cox-listens-to-testimony-cropDirector Cox of the Nevada Department of Corrections candidly admitted earlier this year that he and his department had not been following requirements and protocols called for by state law and department regulations.  Besides the undisclosed competition using inmate labor, there is an issue of lost money from possible mismanagement of the NDOC.

One of more of these “industry” operations using prisoners as a labor force for select private companies resulted in substantial dollars lost to the state due to non-payment of leases, wages, utility costs and other expenses advanced to companies in an effort of keeping them operating and prisoners employed.  SSI’s current account receivables are in excess of $600,000 and previously in 2010 $800,000 was sent to collectors to try and recover.

As a result of poor business practices, SSI has lost hundreds of thousands of dollars and nearly exhausted a $1.5 million dollar contingency fund.  The industry closed by order of the Governor was a metal/steel fabrication plant at the High Desert State Prison.  This single operation is at the center of the controversy surrounding prison labor and unfair competition that formed the basis for the new legislation.

Silver State Industries had a long standing contract with Alpine Steel, LLC that allowed inmates to manufacture structural steel used in public and private projects secured through standard industry bid procedures.  Alpine used the cheap labor they paid to inmate workers as a means to secure numerous competitive contracts utilizing low labor projections/costs.  Other companies protested they were losing work and thus unable to hire more unemployed steel workers due to unfair competition from Alpine using state prisoners as the company’s “private workforce”.

When it was discovered Alpine was not paying the lower wages owed to the inmate workers or salaries of NDOC supervisory staffers, the story elicited strong reactions from taxpayers and lawmakers alike.  In addition to these payroll defaults, Alpine was behind on agreed lease and utility payments and had failed to reimburse the state for worker comp premiums on the inmate workers – for a period of approximately four years.  The state paid the wages of staffers, the work comp premiums and utility costs which mean the “taxpayers” were subsidizing a substantial amount of Alpine’s operation.

Under media and public pressure, the Governor became involved in December of last year.  Almost immediatelyAlpine’s prison industry operation was ordered closed.  Following the closure Alpine and the NDOC negotiated a repayment agreement with the Attorney General’s office that was very favorable to Alpine’s owner.  The agreement allows Randy Bulloch to make monthly payments to the state over a period of another four years until the debt is paid.  Surprisingly, this agreement does not provide for any interest, fine or penalty for the huge debt from the default(s).  Ultimately the state wound up on the hook for $438,000+ owed by Bulloch.

DD Connett

NDOC Deputy Director, Brian Connett

These default(s) were known to NDOC Director Cox and Deputy Director Brian Connett (Deputy Director of the Prison Industry) but neither took any positive steps to recover the money owed and bring Alpine current.

As originally proposed, SB 478, subsection 7 required notices and an opportunity to be consulted about proposed new prison industry projects be provided to private companies and labor organizations.  It further required the NDOC Director and Deputy Director of Prison Industries to provide the Senate Interim Finance Committee (IFC) on Industrial Programs with information on possible impacts upon labor or sales from proposed new prison industries.

Instead of requiring the NDOC to consult directly with businesses that may be affected by new or proposed industries, the amended legislation (subsections #7 in the amended text) calls for other state agencies or departments to conduct studies and submit reports of possible conflicts involving labor or market sales.

Though the legislation as passed does not contain all the provisions hoped for by supporters, necessary key provisions calls for more transparency and oversight over prison industries – and their competition against private companies having to compete against low prison wages.

Two key provisions of SB 478 are the provision that the NDOC must provide documentation to the IFC for approval of new programs and then if approved there, any proposed program must be considered by the Board of Prison Commissioners (composed of the Governor, AG and Secretary of State) for final approval.  Though this provision was already in place, these were circumvented previously.  The second change is the addition of a second union representative added to the IFC Industrial Program Committee.  This will help ensure Nevada workers are protected from unfair prison labor displacing them or taking jobs from a constantly dwindling job market.

Provisions that the NDOC seek approval for new industry projects from the Bureau of Prison Commissioners, provide notice to the private sector, consultation with businesses and labor on proposed new industries and that any industry have an “insignificant” impact upon displacement of workers; were requirements that were not followed.  These actions – or lack of action – were behind the need for this new legislation in the first place.  Ironically this failure to inform or consult directly with competing companies and unions necessitated SB 478…yet as passed, that critical component has been removed from the final language of the bill.

Cox originally took the position of “neutral” on the proposed legislation…then changed that to “opposed” to the bill.  Finally after negotiating out the requirement to provide direct notice to labor or competing companies, Cox and the NDOC came out in “support” of the measure.  This manipulation gives the appearance that the NDOC wants to avoid any direct notice or contact with the very businesses the prison industry program will be competing against.

The default by one company resulted in complaints against the NDOC for using inmate labor to compete unfairly against private companies.  Everyone involved realized the potential for lost jobs in the private sector along with lost sales to competing companies and led to hearings and meetings before the Board of Prison Commissioners and several Senate and Assembly Committee meetings in 2012 and early this year.

Ultimately information that came out in those hearings and through the media revealed that the NDOC’s prison industry program was “off the chain” (to use the vernacular) and being operated without any true oversight – by the NDOC or other government authorities.  In the end Alpine Steel did Nevadans a favor by their defaulting across the board.  The action of this one company is what angered the public and led to a quick response from lawmakers and the Executive branch.

Unexpectedly, the NDOC continued to use Randy Bulloch as a spokesman for continuing prison industry operations as they were.  Bulloch appeared at nearly every Committee hearing; before the Interim Finance Committee on Industrial Programs, the Board of Prison Commissioners, the Senate Judiciary Committee and before the General Assembly – side by side with SSI Deputy Director, Connett – speaking in support of continuing the prisoner “training program” and arguing that using such labor was really not unfair competition.  At one point he argued if he and other companies using inmate labor had to pay prisoners fair or comparable wages, it would result in closing prison industries altogether.  In advancing that argument he failed to realize that while the low wages and cheap lease of state owned industry facilities to his company provided increased profits, such came at the expense of workers displaced by the prisoners and businesses that lost contracts to Alpine due to the use of prison labor.

This was the “unfair competition” businesses, the public and organized labor protested against and the legislature agreed with them on.  That’s why it was unexpected to see Bulloch, Cox and Connett continue to confer and present arguments against reform of the prison industry in the face of widespread calls demanding reform by everyone else.

SB 478 surprised everyone – lawmakers and public alike – by how quickly it advanced through the Senate and then Assembly once introduced.  Historically proposed legislation takes a substantial amount of time being discussed, amended and again discussed before ever getting to the point of a vote.  This bill introduced on March 25th passed in just over 60 days and will become law approximately 90 days after submission.

The NDOC and the department’s head of SSI will remain in charge of the state’s prison industry program.  Even after demonstrating the agency and top administrators violated the state laws and administrative regulations, the NDOC has been able to successfully maintain overall control.

I weighed in on this issue in Nevada as soon as the issue became public.  As the Executive Director of the Voters Legislative Transparency Project (VLTP), I provided research, a “white paper” report with documentation to Governor Sandoval, AG Cortez-Masto, Secretary of State Miller, members of the state Assembly, the IFC on Industrial Programs, the Senate and personally to Director Cox.

VLTP Directors and staff traveled to Nevada to be in attendance at some of those meetings and spoke directly with Mr. Bulloch and others on the issues.  Many of the tough questions posed to Cox and Bulloch in subsequent hearings or meetings originated from the VLTP analysis and report.

VLTP has publicly supported the legislative efforts to bring the prison industry program in Nevada under control and force it to operate in a transparent manner.  I’m gladdened that all the effort put into solving this issue has been successful and will benefit workers and businesses moving forward.

The final version of SB 478 came as a result of compromise between lawmakers, businesses, union leaders, workers and the NDOC.  None of those involved got everything they wanted but that’s how “compromise” works.  It’s a needed step in the right direction and now new SSI industry programs or projects will come under intense scrutiny and vetting prior to implementation.  Such scrutiny was absent previously.

Expecting the same government bodies; the Legislature’s IFC and the Board of Examiners to protect the interests of workers and competing business owners is difficult.  Oversight and transparency will be the key ingredients to keeping the prison industry program from once again getting out of control.  This new legislation appears to provide both.

Question from the UK: Why is the American right closing prisons?

Question from the UK: Why is the American right closing prisons?

In response to an article by RICK MUIR PUBLISHED 18 APRIL 2013 11:58 in the “New Statesman”

As conservative parties in nations across the pond attempt to emulate America’s Right Wing policies and initiatives, Rick Muir questions if replicating the “NEW” U.S. stance on imprisonment and criminal justice is warranted.

Mr. Muir accurately depicts many of the changes U.S. states are making to reduce the number of Americans imprisoned.  He reports on efforts of diverting drug offenders from prison through community rehab and court programs, stopping new construction of prisons and understanding that locking up non-violent offenders is costly and does nothing more than create a revolving door for first offenders to return time and again throughout their lives.

However in reporting that it is the GOP or Right Wing pursuing proposals that have long been advocated by liberals and progressives, he failed to fully connect the dots on where and how this mass incarceration began – and who stands to profit from these proposed changes to America’s criminal justice system.

It began with the ultra right think tank, American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in the late 1970’s. They got together with corporate interests and wrote legislation that began a trend that turned 1970’s 338,000 incarcerated into today’s 2.3 million. They crafted minimum mandatory sentencing laws, truth in sentencing, three strike and habitual offender laws.  They helped abolish parole and wrote more legislation to require convicted offenders serve 85% of imposed sentences.

Once the laws were written by ALEC and wholeheartedly backed by President Reagan in pursuing his “war on drugs”, ALEC wrote more legislation to allow private companies to begin to profit off imprisonment.  They wrote the Private Correctional Facilities ActPrison Industries Act and the Uniform Bail Act.  

The first was to authorize states to allow ALEC’s corporate members, Corrections Corporation of America, and Wackenhut (now Geo Group) to begin operating private prisons to house the huge numbers of new prisoners that arose due to the harsh laws written to imprison.  

The second written to create a low wage workforce accessible by private companies for manufacturing – and to allow these companies to lease publicly owned prison industrial facilities for as little as a dollar a year.

The third was written to require all bonding of those charged with criminal acts to be accomplished by commercial bonding companies at substantial fees.  This was to enrich ALEC’s long time member, the American Bail Coalition.

What all this did was to industrialize imprisonment and create a large conglomerate of companies realizing huge profits off imprisoning, working, feeding, providing healthcare, canteens and phone services to America’s incarcerated.  This defines and represents ALEC’s form of “Free-market”, “federalism” and “limited government” principles.  By turning humans into commodities with pre-determined shelf lives, ALEC was able to create a criminal justice industrial complex where private companies could capitalize and reap billions in profits off incarcerating the most individuals possible.

This new prison industrial revolution begun by ALEC and the ultra right drove up the costs of criminal justice from mere millions in 1970 to nearly $75 billion in 2011 (Geo and CCA raked in $2.9 billion of this in corporate income).  These billions in dollars are taken directly out of taxes paid by Americans.  Over the years state by state had to begin cutting education, healthcare programs, social welfare and similar programs to continue to increase spending on imprisonment.  In 2000 many states finding nothing left to cut to continue paying for housing and caring for more and more prisoners, began to look for ways to reduce the costs of incarceration itself.  They turned away from rehabilitation and began cutting education programs for prisoners.  Then vocational training went, then counseling and drug and alcohol programs and finally, recreation.  None of these reductions sufficed, prison continued to overflow and for every dollar saved through cutting important programs, that dollar and one more were needed to pay for more privatization.

Finally in 2010 many state authorities – even those considered solidly and forever conservative Republican – realized changes in criminal justice systems had to be made.  States verged on bankruptcy due to the continued increase in prison population and the costs associated with imprisonment.  Only then did the Right Wing fully understand that their “tough on crime” agenda advanced over the past 30 years was responsible for the dire financial position of state governments.  ALEC members and alumni such as Newt Gingrich formed a new “Right On Crime” organization (a joint project with the Texas Public Policy Foundation and prison fellowship). now stating that they had been wrong for years and that it is time to “right the ship” and begin thinking smart about crime.  Of course the Texas Public Policy Foundation and Prison Fellowship are ALEC members or supporters.

The first thought went to creating a new “product line.”  They turned to immigrants as a means of continuing to capitalize off prison beds that were beginning to sit vacant.  Americans out – “illegal immigrants” in…and at a higher per diem cost per inmate.  Because the federal government paid higher daily per diems for holding immigrants than paid for incarcerating prisoners the profits would increase.  So ALEC with the help of CCA crafted SB 1070 and introduced it in Arizona.  Once it became law, it has been redirected to dozens of other U.S. states and CCA and Geo Group (though no longer members of ALEC) secured more and more contracts to house immigrants and increase their profits exponentially.

In essence those who created mass imprisonment to enrich investors and company owners through corporatism were now going to step forward and provide a “solution” to the problems they created.  This has always been the ALEC and ultra-right meme; create a faux problem and then provide the perfect solution.  Once again ALEC member companies would profit off the new “Right on Crime” initiative…ALEC member, Prison Fellowship Ministry would reap huge grants and donations to offer reentry programs for offenders released from prison…the American Bail Coalition who had profited for years off bonding of criminals would also begin to see increased profits through a new ALEC initiative: the Conditional Early Release Bond   This legislation would allow prisoners to seek parole through posting a bond to the state to ensure they would not reoffend.  Of course this bond is provided to the state by a surety company represented by the ABC and for a commercial fee.

So in essence the new “Right on Crime” project represents another ALEC initiative. Being right on crime does not mean being “Smart on Crime.”  We need to get ALEC and their members completely out of our criminal justice system.  They have incarcerated enough and profited way too much off incarceration.  Today the UK is where America was in the 1990’s, pushing for longer sentences, more incarceration and to use inmate labor for manufacturing and labor for private companies.  America has already begun to realize those concepts are taking American worker’s jobs and the cost of incarcerating someone for 5 years for possessing a joint of marijuana is completely insane and too costly.

Hopefully those non-conservatives in the UK can convince politicians over there that following in America’s path is not always the best course to chart.

Read Rick Muir’s article <- HERE ->

Prison Industry Bill Clears Nevada’s Senate Judiciary Committee

Prison Industry Bill Clears Nevada’s Senate Judiciary Committee

Senators move quickly to rein in runaway prison program

By Bob Sloan

On Wednesday a proposed bill amending Nevada’s Prison Industries was debated before the state Senate Judiciary Committee.  The bill, SB 478 was sponsored by the Senate Finance Committee, which is chaired by former Assemblywoman and now Senator Debbie Smith (D-13).  Senator Smith explained the bill to the Committee and why a revision to NRS 209.461 is needed to protect workers, private businesses and taxpayers from being unfairly compromised by prison industry operations.

Attending the hearing in support of the legislation, former U.S. Senator (and Nevada Governor) Richard Bryan outlined a proposal he’d submitted to the Board of Prison Commissioners last month that would help protect Nevada’s businesses and workers.  Proposed revisions to NRS 209 within SB 478 language would serve that purpose.

Sen BryanSuggested language includes requirements that the NDOC provide adequate notice and consult with private businesses and unions prior to entering into new contracts or developing new prison industries.  This would help protect Nevada’s workers from displacement and private businesses from unfair competition arising from the use of prison labor by private companies or state sponsored industry programs.

These requirements are already mandatory and annunciated under federal guidelines controlling prison-made products introduced into interstate commerce.  This is to protect workers and businesses in states receiving such goods.

Senator Bryan explained the reason such policy changes were necessary to first protect Nevada’s business and workers.  He stated that these protections were at the core of the proposal made to the BPC in March.

SB 478 includes a requirement that any private company applying to participate in prison industrial programs be required to provide a guarantee that operational expenses will be paid to the NDOC.  This provision requires the posting of a surety bond or personal guarantee:

“7. Before entering into any contract with a private employer for the employment of offenders pursuant to subsection
1, the Director shall obtain from the private employer:
   (a) A personal guarantee, surety bond in the sum of $1,000,000 made payable to the State of Nevada or security
agreement to secure any debt, obligation or other liability of the private employer under the contract including, without limitation, lease payments, wages earned by offenders and compensation earned by personnel of the Department.”

This clause seemed to draw the most concern and discussion from the Committee as they attempted to ascertain whether such a high bond was necessary.

Danny Thompsonsb 478 hearing conway

Other revisions require the NDOC Director to secure documentation pertaining to the impact upon private industry and labor in Nevada.  Before submitting such projects or new industries to the Interim Finance Committee’s Committee on Industrial Programs for recommendations or Board of Prison Commissioners for approval, these studies must be completed.

Also speaking in support of SB 478’s changes to policy requiring notice and consultation with labor, was Nevada’s AFLCIO Executive Secretary Treasurer, Danny Thompson and Robbie Conway of Ironworkers Local 433.

The Union Representatives spoke on behalf of unemployed union workers being displaced or unable to find employment because of prisoners used by Alpine Steel, LLC.  Alpine has been accused of using cheap prison labor to reduce labor costs and secure bids on projects, reducing the ability of other companies to compete fairly for the same jobs. One of those projects is the high profile construction of the Sky Vue Ferris Wheel on the Las Vegas strip.

SkyVue pic

Thompson raised issues of public safety due to using inmate labor to fabricate steel components used in building a public bridge over I-15 and the Wet ‘N’ Wild theme park in Summerlin. Thompson mentioned he’d made repeated requests for proof of required certification of the prison shop and inmate welders but Alpine and NDOC continues to withhold those documents.

Time for discussion opposing SB 478 was consumed by Alpine Steel owner, Randy Bulloch.  He vehemently opposed any requirement of posting a surety bond or consulting with unions, labor or competing businesses before starting up new prison industries.  He advised his company had been using inmates as a workforce for seven years before the operation was stopped early this year.

His argument was that requiring a bond would be cost prohibitive and “catastrophic” to prison industry operations.  Bulloch also claimed that noticing and consulting with unions and competing businesses and requiring approval of both would be impossible, “they’ll never agree to such projects.”  Presumably Bulloch’s persistent advocacy on behalf of prison industries demonstrates a desire to reopen the prison industry’s metal shop to Alpine Steel and regain access to that less costly workforce.

The proposed revisions do not include a requirement of “approval” by unions or competing businesses.  It only requires notice and an opportunity to participate in any discussion prior to submission of proposed new industries for approval. In addition until Bulloch repays nearly half a million dollars owed to the state it is unlikely authorities will consider allowing his company back onto prison property.

It’s interesting that Mr. Bulloch’s company was at the root of a controversy that ultimately resulted in the necessity of this legislative review of prison industries.  Actions of Bulloch and Alpine Steel placed the entire program in jeopardy by his refusing to pay incurred operational expenses owed to the NDOC.

Rather than open discussions of new industry operations to transparency, Bulloch seems intent upon keeping any new or proposed contracts shrouded in secrecy, and decisions regarding use of inmate labor made outside the view of obviously interested parties.

Alpine ran up a huge bill with the prison industries by failing to pay inmate and NDOC staff wages, utility costs, workers compensation or lease payments for nearly four years, accumulating a debt of $438,000 to the state.  After the story broke in the media is when officials closed Alpine’s operation at High Desert State Prison and forced Bulloch to agree to repay the state over the next four years.  Though Bulloch no longer has any inmates working for him in the prison shop and the facilities are closed to him, he continues to be the lone voice advocating for operating Nevada’s prison industries without any policy changes to ensure other companies are not able to operate with taxpayers footing the bill.

Competing steel companies protested lost business through unfair practices exercised by Alpine to secure contracts due to low-paid prison wages.  They also voiced concern that the state was unfairly subsidizing Alpine’s operations through a sweetheart lease agreement for prison facilities and a failure to collect the debts owed.  Both gave Alpine Steel a substantial advantage over all competitors in the steel industry there in Nevada.

NDOC Director Cox and Deputy Director Connett were present and stated they and the department was “neutral” on the legislation and will be submitting written statements to that effect.  Several former inmates attempted to speak in opposition, but time was short due to Bulloch’s lengthy statements in opposition and their discussion limited.

The following day, the Judiciary Committee voted unanimously to move the bill to the full Senate for discussion and vote.  It is unknown at this time how much support this legislation will get from the Nevada Assembly and full Senate.

Michigan GOP Human Services Budget — Welcome to the Gulag

Michigan GOP Human Services Budget — Welcome to the Gulag

The contrast couldn’t be more stark. Michigan Republicans and Democrats are not even in the same book, let alone on the same page, when it comes to what politicians like to refer to as “our most precious resource” — our children.

Michigan House Republicans approved a budget which will slash funding for the Department of Human Services, the agency that serves the most vulnerable among us. The budget proposes to cut 1,000 jobs in that department — 9 percent of its workforce. Under the GOP plan the agency will be severely handicapped in its capacity to handle the core functions of welfare, food assistance and child abuse cases. Worker’s caseloads would increase by 7 percent, adversely impacting foster care and child protective services. Although the state is under a court-ordered mandate to improve conditions in these services, Republicans refuse to adequately fund the programs.

A decline in services for children in need will predictably lead to increased delinquency and incarceration of the state’s poorest children. The GOP is additionally planning on privatizing three juvenile detention centers (Escanaba, Grayling and Whitmore Lake) to save money. As Democracy Tree investigated last year, privatization of prisons is not only a very bad idea, (that doesn’t save money), but it creates a de facto slave labor force.

What we have in the GOP House Human Services budget is effectively an initiative to make “our most precious resource” a lifelong slave labor market for private prisons.

Michigan Democrats also revealed their budget plans. The Associated Press reports that their focus is on K-12 and higher education funding and middle-class tax relief. Democratic House Leader Griemel said:

“Our priorities are tax relief for middle-class families, restoring funding to education and increasing economic security for Michigan families. The governor’s agenda puts corporations before middle-class families”.

It is safe to say that these priorities will not be reflected in the final budget.

The Senate Human Services subcommittee is set to vote this afternoon on their budget. Congress must then hammer-out their differences by the June 1st deadline.

Our most precious resource will surely be the biggest loser.

Amy Kerr Hardin from Democracy Tree

democracy tree-vltp

More Businesses Victimized by Nevada Prison Industries

More Businesses Victimized by Nevada Prison Industries

By Bob Sloan

– Other Business owners complain of unfair competition –

When researching material for the Study of Nevada’s Prison Industry Program (released in January), I discovered that in addition to several steel fabrication companies, several other industries and manufacturers have come forward saying they’ve also been compromised by Nevada’s prison industry.  These businesses include; embroidery (Carson City), truck manufacturing (water trucks for construction use), auto restoration and repairing (classic cars) and companies involved in repackaging and/or resale of returned or refurbished goods.

In addition to those industries being victimized, any Nevadan that registers a motor vehicle, trailer or semi that requires a license plate is also being forced to contribute to the profits of the prison industry.

Under a contract with the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, the prison industry receives $.50 for every license plate “manufactured” and distributed in Nevada.  This fee appears to be in addition to the current contract between the NDOC prison industries and the BMV that sets pricing for the production of license plates.  Wording of AB 473 makes the payment mandatory and the money deposited to a dedicated Prison Industry Fund.  Vehicles requiring two plates (front and back) are charged an additional $1.00 per vehicle per year.

Sounds like small change for each vehicle owner – $.50 or $1.00 but with an estimated 2 million vehicles registered annually in Nevada the prison industries is expecting to receive a continuing windfall from this amended legislation.  When added to debts owed by private companies partnered with prison industries (2012 Accounts Payable and Outstanding were in excess of $600,000) the state owned and controlled “company” Silver State Industries continues to reap benefits from taxpayers.  They claim that SSI is self-sufficient and relies upon no tax dollars or appropriations for their operations, but what’s been discovered refutes that claim.  Could it be the license plate fees paid to the prison industries will be used to offset industry losses – at the expense of taxpayers who register their vehicles?

An unanswered question…since most consider registering their cars and paying for licensing a state “tax” for owning a vehicle, are Nevadans actually paying a $.50 cent tax per plate to the Prison Industries?

History

The story of Alpine Steel, LLC and their partnership contract with Nevada’s NDOC industries – Silver State Industries – has been in the news for months now.  When competing companies discovered Alpine had been using prison labor provided at or below minimum wages, they complained to the Governor and members of Nevada’s legislature about unfair competition.

Alpine had been contracting with the NDOC since 2006 to use inmates as a workforce in fabricating structural steel used in private sector construction jobs performed by the company. Due to the low labor costs, Alpine was able to respond to RFP’s and underbid all others for projects.

As the story evolved other issues began to rise to the surface identifying separate but factual concerns; unpaid wages to inmates and NDOC staff, unpaid utilities, unpaid taxes and unpaid lease payments by Alpine Steel.  In the end it was determined that Alpine owed the state nearly half a million dollars in unpaid operating costs.  Under the contract between NDOC and Alpine, there were no requirements for the posting of a performance bond or personal guarantee of payment should the corporation default.

The additional public admittance by NDOC Deputy Director Brian Connett that Alpine Steel had not been vetted for past financial or business practices prior to or during the contract(s) period brought to light that his prison industry operation had bypassed standard business practices when developing contracts with Alpine.

Hearings were held before Nevada’s Ways and Means Committee and the Board of Prison Commissioners (BPC) on the matter.  NDOC Director Greg Cox and Deputy Director Connett were questioned about the debt owed to the state by Alpine, on entry into the Alpine contract without any approval from the BPC and failures of consulting with private businesses and labor groups prior to initiating the steel industry operation.

Former Nevada U.S. Senator Richard Bryan came to the table at these meetings and proposed changes to protect Nevada’s workers, private businesses and protect inmate workers from further exploitation.

Proposed changes to Prison Industry Statute(s)

Apparently In response to concerns voiced by Governor Sandoval and his BPC and the proposal by Bryan, the Nevada Senate has proposed amending the state’s statute on prison industries through SB 478, filed on March 25th.  A hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled for Wednesday April 10th to discuss the proposed changes to NRS 209.

One important change to the statute would require any company wishing to participate in prison industry work programs post a bond to ensure situations such as that with Alpine do not reoccur with the state owed hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Other changes tighten the requirements for consulting private businesses that would be impacted by proposed industry products or services – and for consulting with unions and labor that may be adversely impacted by the labor of inmates. Costs associated with these consultations are borne by the company and not paid for with tax dollars and all new proposed industry or products will vetted by the Interim Finance Committee on Prison Industrial Programs.  Once that committee makes a recommendation, the proposed project is sent to the BPC where the Governor, Attorney General and Secretary of State will make the final decision.

Necessity for these changes

Thomson Water TruckIn addition to the Alpine prison operation, investigation revealed that a previous industry run in partnership between SSI and a private company resulted in the closure of at least one competing private manufacturer.  This was a project involving Thomson Equipment Company and SSI.  Thomson imported tanks and pumping equipment from foreign manufacturers and brought the materials to their prison industry facility where inmates assembled the Water Trucks.

Everyone has seen these trucks along highways and large construction sites where they’re used to spray water to keep dust down during construction.  A company that built the same trucks there in Nevada was forced to close those operations in 2006 due to the Thomson products being distributed through auctions and other outlets for as much as 30% less than the competing company’s pricing.  Workers were laid off and the company closed the division that manufactured the same products Thomson had begun selling for less.

“I either had to pay my workers much less or stop my operation to be competitive,” the company owner told me during an interview.  “I chose to close the operation down and not make any more water trucks.  With so many Thomson products dumped on the markets, I could ill afford to pay prevailing wages to my employees and continue to be competitive.

“I had no idea that those Thomson products were made using inmate labor.  I heard they were importing components from Asia and attributed the lower pricing to that.  If I had known at that time that I was forced to close and lay off good workers because prisoners paid minimum wages were used to undercut my pricing, I would have protested to state authorities.  I don’t know if protesting would have stopped it because from what I’ve read in the paper, the state is promoting prison industries.”

According to minutes of the Prison Industry Finance Committee, Thomson was bought out by a foreign conglomerate out of New Zealand and Australia.  They changed the name of the company to Silver Line Industries and began to import a huge number of tanks and other equipment from Hong Kong and elsewhere which the inmates of Nevada would transform into new truck products.  They stopped the prison operation a few years ago, but not before that operation caused the closure of competing Nevada businesses and put several workers on unemployment.  While the company put out of business by the prison industry paid prevailing wages to their workers, Thomson/Silver Line paid inmates minimum wage.

Shelby AmericanI interviewed owners of several car restoration companies in Nevada over the past couple of months.  They advised they were basically unaware of the car restoration industry run by SSI and had no idea they were competing against prisoners doing the same work on privately owned vehicles.  When I asked them about Shelby American’s use of inmate labor on the Shelby Mustang products, none of those interviewed had any inkling inmates were involved in that operation.  One said he had several acquaintances working for Shelby out by the race track in Las Vegas who assembled the Shelby line – and thought they were also manufacturing the parts used in the production.  A 2000 CNN article on Shelby American and a Wall Street Journal article about the restoration of a number of cars owned by private collectors was shown to one restorer.  The Shelby article revealed:

“Shelby American, manufacturer of the Shelby Cobra sports cars, pays Deere and a dozen other inmates at the facility an hourly wage to build every part of the car except the engine. Other workers at the Indian Springs penitentiary work for other private companies or the state restoring cars, beveling and staining glass windows, upholstering chairs and making bed mattresses.

”After five years of loyal service to his employer, the 63-year-old Deere earns less than $8,000 a year in his full-time job, gets no vacation or sick pay and is unlikely to ever be promoted.”

The WSJ story contained this information:

“The cases in question are cars—very cool vintage cars. They come in rough and battered, and inmates restore them to their original glory. It may be the penal system’s most unusual workshop…

“The auto shop’s present inventory includes 32 cars in some stage of restoration. Among them: two 1960s-era Corvettes, two 1960s Mustangs, a 1959 Thunderbird, a 1965 Malibu, a 1935 Chevy pickup and two 1969 GTOs.

“All kinds of customers bring their cars in. Barry Becker, a Las Vegas realtor, has had nearly a dozen cars restored by prisoners.

‘I just keep buying stuff I don’t need,’ he says. Among his prison-rescued treasures are a 1937 Dodge sedan convertible, a 1937 Dodge “Woody” wagon, a 1956 Nash Metropolitan and a 1941 Plymouth pickup truck

“A Las Vegas couple recently agreed to pay the prison $19,000 for a re-do of a 1973 Datsun 240Z, with a V8 engine installed. “Mom’s going to go to the store really fast,” says the shop’s director, Carl Korsgaard.

“Inmates, including a few murderers and lifers, have been trained to do everything from sanding steel bodies down to sewing upholstery. One upholsterer was born in Cuba, where Mr. Korsgaard believes he absorbed his countrymen’s talent for keeping vintage U.S. vehicles on the road.”

Corvette restored by SSIThe business owner exclaimed, “How can the state openly promote a program such as that?  By using inmates to restore or repair privately owned vehicles, they are taking work away from hard working business owners and our employees.  I haven’t committed a crime…my workers aren’t criminals and we need work to put food on the table and pay our bills, raise our kids.  How can the state justify doing something like this that they know hurts business owners like me and dozens of others trying to make a living restoring cars?”

I couldn’t honestly answer his questions.

In 2011 the owner of Billow’s Embroidery in Carson City, Nevada began protesting to the NDOC, SSI and ultimately to Governor Sandoval that his company was losing business due to direct competition with a prison industry doing embroidery.  His complaints included the fact that he had to pay fair wages, benefits and provide insurance for his workers, while the prison industry paid no benefits, insurance and only paid minimum wage.  This made their products and service pricing substantially less than Mr. Billow was able to compete against.

Mr. Billow was invited out to the SSI Embroidery operation and given a tour of the prison industries located at the prison.  He was asked to stop complaining about unfair competition as training of prisoners was important and necessary.

During the tour Mr. Billow described as a “dog and pony show” he was shown the prison’s printing industry shop.  Mr. Billow observed that inmates were being trained on and using antiquated AB Dick offset printing equipment.  He stated, “I learned printing while in school on that equipment decades ago.  I couldn’t understand how training inmates on such old equipment would prepare them for employment in the printing industry upon release, when they would know nothing about the digital and advanced printing machinery used in the private sector.”

Mr. Billow felt that the “tour” he was given was conducted as a way of demonstrating that he was up against a huge industry run by the state and that to continue to complain would be useless.  He said he felt that it was an effort into intimidating him into silence.

Jacobs Trading Company

bigjacobsAn ongoing industry run at the women’s prison facility operated by SSI, is a partnership with Jacobs Trading Company.  Jacobs is a national company that specializes in buying, refurbishing and repackaging returned or damaged products from retailer such as Wal-Mart and Best Buy.  Female prisoners are paid minimum wage for their labor.

The Great Recession was a boon for Jacobs Trading Co., the liquidation company in Hopkins MN. that bears the name of Irwin Jacobs, one of the state’s best-known businessmen. The company deals in overstocks, scratch-and-dents and returned merchandise and saw operating income rocket to $14 million in 2009 from $5 million in 2008.  Jacobs relies heavily upon prison labor for their repackaging operations.

Inmate workers receive the materials and repair if necessary and then remove all labeling, advertising and UPC coding that identifies the original manufacturer or retailer.  They then repackage and ship the refurbished products all over the country.  Recently Jacobs demanded SSI provide the money to expand their prison operation at the women’s prison.  Jacobs said they need another loading dock in order to put on a third shift and employ another eighteen female prisoners.

Rather than “request” the NDOC or SSI provide the new construction, Jacobs demanded that they do so, and threatened to reduce their operation to a single shift and lay off inmate workers if the state run department did not meet their demands.  Some refer to this as sharp negotiating others would call it a form of extortion.

Research revealed that Jacobs Trading Company has created an “empire” within the repackaging industry in the U.S.  Currently they operate in prison industry operations in at least six states.  Consider the following discussion that occurred fifteen years ago in reference to Jacobs Trading’s operation in Minneapolis – and legislation proposed to favor Jacobs’ use of inmate labor:

“Corrections officials are quick to cite a statewide labor shortage to justify deals such as the Jacobs bill. Employersare having trouble finding people to work, they point out.

But Neuenfeldt shoots back: “If Jacobs wants to bring 50 jobs to Wisconsin, it would be good to open up an operation in central-city Milwaukee or somewhere else in the state where we have high unemployment.

“And I would think that the business community, especially small business, would have some concern over businesses set up using prison labor, because if this guy pays a dollar an hour it’s pretty hard to compete with that,” he adds.

If the Jacobs legislation passes as currently written, Jacobs will indeed pay inmates $1 per hour, skirting a federal interstate commerce law that requires that prisoners working for commercial ventures be paid prevailing wage.

Federal law only applies to the production or manufacturing of a product,” says Steve Kronzer, director of Badger State Industries. “If they started repairing then it would be considered manufacturing, and then it would come under the federal law.”[1]

The Jacobs plan demonstrates the enthusiasm with which the Department of Corrections is expanding into the private sector–even at the expense of profits. “The whole reason for doing this thing is so the state gets money back to cover its losses for boarding these people,” says Neuenfeldt.

But, the labor rep says, some basic math shows that the savings would be minimal, possibly nonexistent.

The 50 inmates involved would be paid $1 per hour for 1,950 hours. This would cost Jacobs $97,500 a year in wages. Thus, each inmate would be paid about $2,000 a year. Fifteen percent of that would go to the corrections system, and another 5% would go to the victim-restitution fund. The state’s 15% comes to $14,625, plus an estimated $8,000 savings from wages the state would no longer pay the inmates who would otherwise be employed in other ventures. So the state gain would be around $27,525.

But the state would also have to pay for a supervisor, which the AFL-CIO estimates will cost $17,800. This brings the state’s take down to $9,725. Subtract the costs of facility adjustments and security measures, and “the Jacobs bill could even be a money-losing proposition,” says Neuenfeldt.

So why do it?

“You have to understand the mentality that goes on within the prison industries itself,” says Nick George, director of government relations for Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce. George served on a prison industries advisory committee that discussed the governor’s budget proposals.

“In prison industries, there is a mentality, and this is not unique to Wisconsin, of wanting to see their industries grow,” he explains. “They have a number of advantages over private industry, and a lot of the individuals who run these prison industries have an empire-building attitude.”

Several of these operations are identified as participating in the federal Prison Industries Enhancement Certification Program (PIE Program).  This program allows companies to use inmate labor to manufacture products sold and shipped across state lines – but only where the company pays prevailing wages to the inmates, consults with private companies performing the same manufacturing or services and with labor unions, prior to start-up of the industry.

While the Jacobs operation in Nevada is listed as a PIE Program participant, the inmates are not paid comparable wages.  They receive minimum wage or less for all job descriptions, regardless of years of experience or skill.

In other states Jacobs has failed to register these operations as PIE though the products received at those facilities cross state lines and finished products are shipped back across state lines.  Here is a listing of some of those current or former Jacobs operations:

  1. Nevada – Southern Nevada Correctional Center.

  2. Oklahoma – Eddie Warrior Correctional Center (not listed as PIE).

  3. Idaho

  4. North Dakota

  5. Indiana –  Bunker Hill,  and Rockville, Indiana

  6. Minnesota

Currently Nevada is the only “PIE” operation listed for Jacobs…yet as shown, they are operating in Oklahoma without listing it as a PIE industry.  In each of the foregoing states inmates are used as the sole workforce for Jacobs’ repackaging operations.  Jacobs does not use non-inmate labor in their repackaging operations.  Looking at the map of distribution centers operated by Jacobs, one finds that they are placed in areas where the prison industries are operating.  In a couple of those industry operations, Jacobs has acquired exclusive contracts with Corrections Corporation of America to use inmate labor and facilities under control of this private prison company.

Jacobs Trading and its owner, Irwin Jacobs have been in the news in a similar manner to Alpine Steel and owner Randy Bulloch over questionable business practices.  In 1997 Jacobs retail operations were sold to Petters Group Worldwide.  After failing to make payments for their purchase, the stores were ultimately shut down.

(It is interesting to note that Tom Petters, whose company had purchased the retail operations from Jacobs Trading, was recently convicted of multiple felony counts as part of a $3.65 Billion Ponzi scheme.)

In 2010 Irwin Jacobs came under intense scrutiny over investments made in a top boat company, Genmar.  It appears Jacobs urged investors to put money into Genmar before the company wound up in bankruptcy.  In the two years preceding that collapse, Jacobs and some of his investors received substantial “dividends” from Genmar as it was financially foundering.

Once the bankruptcy was final, Jacobs and one of his investor friends began buying Genmar back for pennies on the dollar, vowing to make it one of Jacob’s “best acquisitions ever.”

Corruption in Prison Industries

I mention Jacobs and the appearance of manipulating businesses and use of inmate labor, because a means of capitalizing off cheap labor permeates all the companies involved in prison industries.  Alpine Steel revealed that aspect to Nevadans recently.  Previously I wrote about U.S. Technologies that was formed for the specific purpose of using inmate labor in the PIE Program to provide a labor advantage to numerous companies acquired by U.S. Technologies.

Like Jacobs, UST formed exclusive contracts with CCA and/or Geo Group to allow them to operate at all facilities owned or managed by these private prison companies that have prison industry operations.

Board members of UST included many top names of the politically and financially powerful in Washington; George J. Mitchell, William Webster, General Alexander J. Haig Jr., etc.  In 2006 UST went belly up after the Chairman was indicted for embezzling over $20 million in investor funds.  The SEC devalued UST stock and the high profile Board members ran from any connectivity to UST as quickly as possible.

In Florida the prison industry corporation PRIDE came under fire for creating nine spin-off corporations to take advantage of the PIE Program and turn huge profits.  The entire executive staff was forced to retire once the scandal broke but that didn’t save four private companies that had been taken over entirely by PRIDE, putting the legal business owners into bankruptcy.

Beyond the cheap low cost labor, is the ability to secure equally cheap leases on state owned manufacturing facilities and as in Nevada, avoid paying the Modified Business Tax on employees.  Alpine secured a lease of 20,000 square feet of manufacturing space from the NDOC.  The contract charged Alpine $.26 cents per square foot for that property.  The average cost per square foot for comparable space in the private sector is $.68 cents a square foot.  Which means Alpine enjoyed a savings of $95,000 in operational expenses every year.

This “savings” to Alpine Steel reduced the potential revenue stream to taxpayers – for the lease of public owned facilities – to the tune of that same $95,000.  When we calculate savings realized by Alpine over the past 7 years that this contract with SSI existed, we easily determine that taxpayers lost more than $665,000 in potential revenue.  Between this loss of potential income and the actual amount owed to the state by Alpine Steel in unpaid debt and unpaid taxes, Nevada is out more than $1 million dollars.  Over the next four years Alpine’s owner has agreed to repay $438,000 owed in the unpaid debt without additional penalties or interest…but the income lost under the leases is gone and there is no provision for Alpine to repay the additional $38,000 owed to the Dept of Revenue for unpaid state taxes.

That $1 million dollars represents a huge loss to a state with high unemployment rates, a declining tax base and increasing government costs.  Nevada in effect subsidized one company’s operations to the tune of a million dollars over half a decade while the competing companies lost income and the ability to hire new workers due to that subsidization.  To me this is beyond unfair, it borders on the very definition of corruption.

Additionally, Jacobs Trading, JT Wholesale, the Embroidery industry and other companies that have left SSI; Shelby American, Thomson Equipment, etc. all have/had similar sweetheart leases on publicly owned facility spaces and inmate wage rates.  How much more in revenue was denied to Nevada’s taxpayers from these leases?  How many more Nevada workers were not hired because inmates were used instead?

So there is a lot of incentive for companies to partner with state run prison industries.  The temptation to realize huge savings off cheap labor, low cost leases, tax breaks, and no requirement to pay worker benefits is too attractive to companies already looking desperately for an “edge” in their respective markets.

When government administrators “help” by increasing the incentives for companies to bring their manufacturing and labor needs to prison industries, it further depresses the normal employment and sales markets.  Leases to the likes of Alpine Steel were made without approval or even review by the Legislature or the Executive branch of government.  The wage rates paid to inmates are likewise without review or question…all leading to the current situation in Nevada.

When we realize the numbers of industries, businesses and unemployed workers who continue to be harmed because of prison industry operation we begin to understand why Nevada jobs are becoming scarce, why private business sales are suffering and why new businesses are finding it more difficult to compete against a captive workforce supported by state subsidized operations.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to discuss the proposed changes to Nevada’s prison industries this coming Wednesday.  I would encourage those who think they are or may be adversely affected by competition in your industry by prison labor, to attend and use this opportunity to voice your opinion.



[1] This is the loophole that Senator Bryan’s proposal to Governor Sandoval would close.  This would protect Nevada employers and workers before protecting workers and businesses in other states.  When SSI’s prison made goods are sold in Nevada, there is no protection to business or workers, requirements to consult with labor or competitors.  Only when SSI products leave the state, are workers and businesses in receiving states getting protection by requiring the inmates are paid comparable wages and consultation with labor was fulfilled.

ALEC’s Involvement in Criminalizing HIV/AIDS Sufferers

ALEC’s Involvement in Criminalizing HIV/AIDS Sufferers

by VLTP Executive Director, Bob Sloan

A recent article from the Advocate and the American Independent caught my attention the other day…then it was picked up and republished by Salon yesterday.

These articles help us to dissect how the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) involves themselves in issue specific initiatives in an effort of promoting their “free market,” pro-corporate agenda.  Not to assist the public in overcoming a health or other issue, not to alleviate the false claims or misunderstandings causing members of our society fear – but rather to capitalize off of that fear and if possible to increase the fear for monetary and political gain.

As we’re told by reading these articles, 1988 was the first time ALEC formed a task force to take up a single issue – HIV and AIDS.  During that period in our history there was much misunderstanding, disinformation and outright lies spread about the disease.  While many were trying to come to grips with the issue, ALEC and one of their pharma members were busy fueling the fires, so to speak…ending with the creation of legislation to criminalize the spread of HIV or AIDS.

I would urge everyone to read the linked articles to fully grasp the way in which ALEC is able to accomplish their agenda – and why they continue to be so successful on advancing their conservative model legislation…

I believe this was a pursuit of ALEC to drive those with the disease to the “cure” which was being manufactured by Hoffman La Roche and was then being studied in trials:

“This pharmaceutical company had the HIV-treating drug zalcitabine (also known as ddC) in clinical trials a couple of years prior. That drug would ultimately win Food and Drug Administration approval in 1992 after three successful trials conducted in cooperation with, among others, the National Cancer Institute.

It was bad enough that Hoffman La Roche was anxious to capitalize off a new drug designed to lead the way in treating a new and dangerous worldwide disease.  The fact that they funded the publishing of a book put out by ALEC that called for criminalizing those with the disease unless they divulged to potential partners that they had such a disease, made it worse.  They weren’t actually trying to cure, rather they were attempting to fuel the flames with incendiary proposals that made it a “law” for those with the ailment to publicly disclose derogatory personal health information…and if they failed to inform, they could face prison.

“The efforts of ALEC’s AIDS policy working group were published that year in a 169-page book containing 13 HIV-specific legislative recommendations. Some of those model laws would, after becoming real state laws, go on to effectively criminalize the behavior of people living with HIV and perpetuate a lasting stigma against HIV-positive people. Today, a majority of states have laws on the books that criminalize HIV exposure regardless of whether the virus was transmitted or there was an intention to infect another person with HIV.”“Every half hour in America someone dies of AIDS!” wrote ALEC’s then-executive director (and former Denver Bronco) Samuel Brunelli and Florida state representative Frank Messersmith, then ALEC’s chairman, in 1989 in their introductory letter published in the AIDS working group’s final report. “Yet, despite this terrible toll, we have been unable to implement a coherent public health strategy for dealing with this modern plague. Instead, we have allowed political special interests to paralyze the legislative process and block effective public health measures. This politicization of the public health process is exacting a deadly price.”

One of the pieces of model legislation drafted by the working group was the HIV Assault Act(adopted by ALEC’s membership as Model legislation in 1995).

“This model bill created a felony charge if a person knew he or she was infected with HIV while engaging in “intimate contact” with another person (exposing one’s bodily fluids to another in a way that could transmit HIV); donating blood, organs, or tissues; or sharing intravenous or intramuscular injection equipment.

There are some who would argue that there were already laws on the books in many states in 1988 making the spread of HIV a criminal act and that ALEC’s efforts were therefore inconsequential.  However, that claim would be false:

“When ALEC produced its model HIV Assault Act in 1989, nine states had HIV-specific criminal laws on the books. Today, 32 states and two U.S. territories have laws criminalizing HIV exposure, according to the Center for HIV Law and Policy. Only a handful of laws require intent to transmit the virus, and none requires an actual transmission for criminal prosecution to proceed. Since 2010, HIV-related criminal charges have led to more than 80 prosecutions against people living with HIV in the U.S., according to the LGBT legal advocacy group Lambda Legal.

ALEC now admits that the creation of the task force and publication of the book was due to the urging of “private interests.”

“Tanner said ALEC, which brings lawmakers and corporate interests together to hammer out legislative recommendations, came to address the HIV epidemic because of pressure from “private interests.””Specifically, he recalled that drugmaker Hoffmann-La Roche was a “big mover” and “put up a lot of funding behind publication of the book…”

The most incriminating aspect of this terrible story?  The names of those sitting upon the ALEC “HIV working group”…

“The co-chairs of the ALEC working group were J. Brian Munroe of Hoffmann-La Rocheand Delaware state Rep. Richard DavisRepresentatives from Nationwide Insurance and Alexander Hamilton Life Insurance also served on the AIDS working group.”

All this sad story is missing is the links between this pursuit of HIV prosecutions, profiting off of the illness and funding and the input from individuals such as Charles or David Koch…but wait, here comes another well known name that weighed in on behalf of ALEC and Hoffman La Roche…:

“Long criticized for not doing enough about the AIDS epidemic, which exploded onto the American medical scene in June 1981, President Ronald Reagan established the first Presidential Commission on the Human Immunodeficiency Virus Epidemic in 1987.The first months of the commission, which deliberated for a year, were plagued by public infighting, leading to the resignation of the chair and another member. The final commission included Richard DeVos, co-founder of Amway and frequent donor to social conservative causes; the late Cardinal John O’Connor, who had served as the archbishop of New York and who openly opposed condoms as an HIV-prevention method; and Penny Pullen, a conservative lawmaker from Illinois.

Penny Pullen
Illinois State Representative Penny Pullen has slipped under the radar of ALEC researchers – until now.  Pullen was a member of ALEC for 14 years, serving on the Board of Directors and upon ALEC’s Education Task Force.  A staunch conservative she complained during the hearings of the Commission on HIV about the tax dollars spent on pursuing the HIV/AIDS epidemic…saying it was paid for by taxpayers and should be used by them and not just as a “headline”, but actually read.
DeVos
DeVos is a well known contributor to ALEC and conservative think tanks and heavily involved in privatization 

efforts of public education.  So President Reagan’s “Commission on the Human Immunodeficiency Virus Epidemic ” included ALEC members and supporters sent there with an agenda.  These folks went right to work finding ways to capitalize off a terrible and frightening disease and to enrich fellow ALEC member, Hoffman La Roche.

Here is a story that only comes out nearly 25 years after the act was accomplished and the damages began to accrue.  This single case demonstrates how ALEC and their conservative cabal use fear to create the illusion that “their” solution is the salvation…how they use the contributors (DeVos and their financial and political influences), their corporate members and influential lawmakers to coordinate their pursuits of profits through crafting legislation that attaches a criminal penalty for failure to comply.

This is precisely what the cabal had already been doing for nearly a decade by filling the public with a fear of crime then crafting criminal justice legislation on three strikes, minimum mandatory sentences and other harsh criminal laws used to fill prisons.  That was followed by creating a prison industrial complex using prisoners for slave labor for corporate manufacturers (claiming the prisoners they worked so hard to imprison needed training for rehabilitation)…when the AIDS/HIV epidemic came along, they put their tried and true skills to work to capitalize off that debilitating disease.  Today they use the same skill sets and tactics to pursue right to work, voter ID suppression and to end collective bargaining.

Still today, the laws ALEC helped to write are still being used to prosecute those with HIV or AIDS in many states.  Hoffman La Roche scored big time, raking in millions in sales of their HIV drug by consumers who’s fears had been elevated by the disease and the legislation put out by ALEC to criminalize those with the disease.

I’m hopeful that the LGBT community takes ALEC and their PhRMA members to task for how this was accomplished, the non-transparent way in which it was done and the mental and physical harm caused by their actions.