prison industries

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.

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.

Voters Legislative Transparency Project Presents First 2013 “Transparency Award”

Voters Legislative Transparency Project Presents First 2013 “Transparency Award”

Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick

On March 19th VLTP issued the organization’s first ever Transparency Award to Nevada Assembly Speaker, Marilyn Kirkpatrick (D-Clark Co.).  This award was presented to Speaker Kirkpatrick by one of VLTP’s Nevada members last week.

1st VLTP Transparency Award to NV. Speaker, Marilyn Kirkpatrick

These awards are reserved for individuals who help make proposed or existing legislation transparent to their constituents.  Speaker Kirkpatrick has questioned the use of inmate labor by Nevada’s prison industries (Silver State Industries), asking probing questions as to whether the inmates are in fact being “trained” or whether the program is being operated as a means of exploiting prisoners for their labor on behalf of private companies.  VLTP was honored to issue the very first of these Transparency Awards to the Nevada Speaker in response to her efforts of protecting the workers and private businesses in Nevada from unfair prison labor practices.

Several companies have signed petitions to the Nevada Board of Prison Commissioners objecting to unfair practices involving the use of prison labor and NDOC facilities to manufacture products used in the private sector to allow certain companies the ability to underbid and secure lucrative contracts.  The companies operating out of the NDOC’s prison industries pay minimum wage or less to the inmate workers, an hourly rate far below that of what is paid by competing companies for labor in the private sector.  Additionally the complaints included a provision allowing leasing of state owned facilities to these prison based companies that are far below the Nevada average for lease of comparable manufacturing space.

Currently the BPC is investigating all actions involving Silver State Industries and the NDOC for non-compliance with state requirements of contact and consultation with private companies and labor groups and unions prior to initiating new industries, contracts or development of new product lines.  The BPC review includes current leases and industry contracts to determine what impact those may have upon workers, unions and Nevada’s unemployed.

Pictured below as she exited from one of several hearings, Speaker Kirkpatrick,  holding the VLTP Award, stated that receiving it,”was a bright point is her otherwise hectic day.”

Speaker Kirkpatrick with VLTP award (2)

We at VLTP look forward to presenting more such awards throughout the remainder of 2013 and beyond, as we and those deserving such awards continue to pursue full disclosure of legislation and laws that are/were written and proposed on behalf of special interest groups and lobbyists in pursuit of profiting at the expense of taxpayers and the general public.