randy bulloch

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 Continues to Struggle With Prison Industry Law

Nevada Continues to Struggle With Prison Industry Law

By Bob Sloan

The Nevada Board of Prison Commissioners (BPC) made up of Governor Brian Sandoval, Attorney General Catherine Masto and Secretary of State Ross Miller, met early on the morning of October 15th to discuss key issues involving the state’s Department of Corrections.  On the agenda was a “hot topic” involving the prison industrial program’s perceived unfair competition with private businesses.  Since last year controversy has surrounded the use of prisoners to compete with Nevada’s unemployed and against companies producing the same products in the private sector.

The NDOC Director presented proposed new administrative regulations for approval.  These “AR’s” covered a gamut of issues from installing trailer/RV spots at remote facilities to use of restraints on pregnant prisoners during labor, housing new hires who cannot find housing locally, and compliance with federal standards on prison rape elimination.  Not much new was learned from attending this Board meeting with one exception – withholding proposed AR 854, “Prison Industrial Program.”  Director Cox advised the Board that he was not presenting this one AR until he could confer with former Senator, Richard Bryan on language contained in the proposed regulation.

This proposed AR was in response to an ongoing controversy involving a partnership contract between Alpine Steel, LLC and the NDOC’s prison industries division.  Nearly a year ago steel companies discovered a competing business, Alpine Steel, LLC had partnered with the NDOC prison industries since 2006 to use inmate labor to manufacture or fabricate structural steel components.  This partnership included low cost facility leases, low paid inmate workers and utilities provided at reduced state rates.  In effect the NDOC was knowingly subsidizing the operations of one private company with tax dollars which provided a distinct advantage for Alpine over competing businesses.

During the investigations that followed, it was learned Alpine had been in serious default for years.  It had not been paying wages to inmates or NDOC staffers, lease and utility payments were in arrears and the state was owed nearly $500,000.  Alpine eventually agreed to a forbearance agreement to repay the money owed to the state and purportedly paid the back wages due to inmate workers.

In June of this year Alpine defaulted on that agreement and the state was awarded a summary judgment of $428,208 plus 1 ½% interest on the debt.  Alpine also surrendered its contractor’s license and is no longer bidding on projects (though their website is still advertising and offering services).  These developments came after new legislation (SB 478) was proposed to strengthen current laws on prison industry operations, providing more oversight and transparency involving prison industry operations.  Additionally wording was inserted to protect competing businesses from being disadvantaged from the use of prisoners as a cheap labor force.

Senator Bryan became involved early on, suggesting changes to the state’s law(s) pertaining to oversight, control and operation of the prison industry program that would eliminate any unfair competition with private manufacturers from the use of prison labor and protect private sector workers.  At last month’s BPC meeting Director Cox stated Senator Bryan had reservations or concerns about one section of the AR, feeling it would not provide the proper protection(s) to private sector companies if/when new prison industry projects were implemented.  Director Cox advised the Board he planned on conferring with Senator Bryan to rewrite AR 854 and present a modified version of it to the Board at the next BPC meeting on December 10th.

Cox advised the objection voiced by Senator Bryan and others was the ability of the Deputy Director to both enact and vet new programs by determining the impact – if any – upon businesses and labor.  Cox indicated Senator Bryan wanted that provision modified.

Senator Bryan is correct in objecting to or having reservations about that proviso.  These precise duties were the Deputy Director’s responsibility previously and as demonstrated by the Alpine situation, he handled them poorly.

 

TRANSPARENCY

Prior to the scheduled meeting a copy of the actual NDOC/Alpine Steel contract was received and researched.  In reviewing the contract and form submitted to the Nevada Board of Examiners several critical issues were immediately noticed.

Deputy Director Connett renewed Alpine Steel’s prison industry contract in 2011.  On the prepared form provided to the Board of Examiners, Connett informed Alpine was chosen because it had been contracting with the NDOC since 2006 with “satisfactory performance.”

There was no mention the company was in default on the old contract as the new one was submitted for official approval.  The form and contract itself were prepared and submitted by Connett – who obviously knew Alpine was in default and went forward without disclosing that fact to the Board of Examiners, the Legislature or the BPC:

 

satisfactory performance

Board of Examiners Contract Form on Alpine Contract 5/11

 

Additionally, Connett certified that the “contracting agency” (the NDOC) would not be providing worker space to Alpine, no Nevada State employees would be assisting Alpine under the contract and the state would not incur an “employment liability” if Alpine’s contract was terminated for failure to “perform.  Each provision initialed by Bulloch:”

Alpine NDOC Contract excerpt

from 2011 Alpine/NDOC Contract

In December 2012 the BPC requested the NDOC to stop all Alpine Steel operations at the High Desert State Prison and take steps to recover the outstanding money owed to the state.  On December 22nd, 2012 Director Cox officially closed the Alpine Steel fabrication operation.

Following the closure and during negotiations to recover the debt owed by Alpine it was learned that more than $438,000 was owed.  This sum included; $143,224 for past due wages to NDOC officers and another $115,270 in “rent” on agency space for workers:

forbearance excerpt 1

From Alpine Forbearance Agreement

Another important provision contained in the contract was the wage scale to be paid to the inmate workers.  The contract provided inmates were to be paid “the prevailing wage rate for the type of work performed”:

Alpine - prevailing wage requirement

2011 Alpine Contract Section 8.6

As I reported in February, Nevada’s Occupational Employment Statistics set the prevailing (median) wage for structural steel fabricators at $16.91 per hour worked:

NV OES struct steel fab

2012 NV OES Website

Yet the NDOC allowed Alpine to pay prisoners the minimum hourly wage for their labor.  From 2006 through 2012 when the operation was closed down, inmates were paid as little as $5.25 per hour to a high of $8.25 per hour regardless of knowledge, time on the job or experience.  Paying inmates less than ½ the scale paid to workers in the private sector allowed Alpine to underbid competing private sector companies for labor projections on projects.  Obviously this important contract provision was ignored by Alpine and the NDOC.

Just as obviously state employees were “assisting” Alpine in the performance of its duties by supervising the inmate workers in a facility space rented to Alpine by the NDOC – and Alpine was delinquent in paying wages to those officers.

Whether considered an “employment liability” or not, the fact that Alpine defaulted on paying officers more than $100,000 in wages meant the state had to pay those wages with tax dollars – and that is a liability.

Realizing how deeply indebted Alpine was, Legislators, Assemblymen, Interim Finance Committee on Industrial Programs members and a BPC member all voiced concerns at the amount owed by Alpine and worried about collecting the huge debt.  Official requests were made to Connett and Director Cox to secure a personal guarantee on the debt from Alpine’s owner, Randall Bulloch.

In September and October 2012 IFC members: AllenPuliz (manufacturing representative), Assemblyman John Ellison, Mike Magnani (labor representative) and Mr. Aguilera (business representative) all requested Alpine Steel’s owner provide a personal guarantee on payment of the debt owed by his company.  This request was made directly to Mr. Bulloch at the October 2012 meeting:

“Mr. Puliz asked if the pay back proposal had a personal guarantee or a guarantee from Alpine Steel. Mr. Bulloch said it was strictly a guarantee from Alpine Steel. Mr. Puliz stated he was a businessman and constantly provided personal guarantees. He asked if Mr. Bulloch was willing to do a personal guarantee on the debt owed to the state.”

Bulloch’s response was:

“…(He) was not prepared to provide a personal guarantee, but he would have further conversations with Mr. Connett to discuss other options.”

At the October meeting, Mr. Nicolas C. Anthony, Senior Principal Deputy Legislative Counsel, Legal Division, summarized the statutory authority and duties of the Committee on Industrial Programs.  In his summary the Deputy Legislative Counsel informed the Committee that their duties were “advisory” only:

”The Committee contains both members of the Legislative Branch and the Executive Branch due to separation of powers. Since the Committee only functions as advisory in nature, any recommendations made by the Committee have no official capacity…

“…Final programs and contracts, including leases of space, were established and entered into by the director of the Nevada Department of Corrections (NDOC) pursuant to statute, which was a function of the Executive Branch and not a function of this Committee…

“…Mr. Anthony indicated the recommendations of the Committee were purely advisory in nature. Mr. Anthony said its advisory recommendations can be submitted to the IFC, full legislature, or director of NDOC. If a recommendation was provided to the director of NDOC, it must pertain to new programs or the review of existing programs’ profitability within the first three years.”

In other words, the IFC Committee can only make “recommendations” to the Director or Deputy Director on new programs or review existing ones – and their recommendations carry absolutely no weight.  Neither Cox nor Connett would be bound to implement the recommendations of the Committee tasked with direct oversight of prison industry operations.

Legislative and private sector members charged with review of prison industry programs were prohibited from forcing the NDOC to seek a personal guarantee on the debt owed the state or formally request Bulloch post a personal guarantee.  The hands of the Committee were effectively tied.

With the NDOC circumventing the requirement that all industry projects be submitted to and approved by the BPC and ignoring the recommendations of the IFC, the agency was operating independently without any genuine oversight.  It appears the 2011 contract with Alpine, though provided to the Board of Examiners for approval, was never submitted to the BPC as required and the Board had no knowledge of the contract or actual operations of Alpine.

In January Connett ignored all calls for a personal guarantee from Bulloch.  Instead, he negotiated a forbearance agreement that allowed Bulloch to shirk personal responsibility for Alpine’s debt to the state.  The agreement also did not include; interest on that debt, a fine or penalty for defaulting on the contract and allowed Alpine to repay the past due money in small monthly payments over several years – and let Alpine’s owner off the hook for any debt owed.

On January 11th, 2013 Attorney General Masto’s office agreed to this proposed deal and Bulloch’s personal property and wealth were thus “officially” protected in case of any default in the future.

At the BPC meeting nine months later, the Governor and other members learned Alpine Steel had very quietly run up a tab of more than $450,000 with the NDOC’s apparent acquiescence and then defaulted on the negotiated and personally lenient repayment plan.  The Board questioned NDOC Director Greg Cox and Connett about the Alpine debt and both were forced to admit Alpine was indeed in full default.  When the Governor asked point blank the total amount owed, Connett stammered and said that though he did not have the “exact figure” he thought the amount was in the “neighborhood of $468,000.”

To anyone following this story it was readily apparent that default was more than likely in the case of Alpine Steel.  Already facing substantial IRS tax liens, litigation from creditors and outstanding state tax liens, Alpine was in dire financial straits when Connett negotiated the forbearance agreement and the Attorney General approved it.

When I forwarded questions to the NDOC and the AG’s office as to who/which agency negotiated the forbearance agreement without pursuing a personal guarantee from Bulloch, both responded the information was “attorney client privileged” refusing to answer.

On the important question as to actual ownership of the Alpine equipment seized and being held by the NDOC as collateral, both NDOC and the AG’s office again cited attorney client privilege and refused to provide any information on value or legal ownership (a third party now claims ownership of some of that property).  On the question of sale or disposal of that equipment to pay down the judgment amount, both again cited attorney client privileged information, refusing to answer.

In June of 2012 the prison industry financial records showed Alpine was $347,778.11 in arrears on payments to the NDOC.  Yet with at least this amount owing, Connett still did not call the contract in default or cease operations.  Instead he kept the operation open – over the recommendations of the IFC – and over the next six months Alpine ran up another $67,131.78 in bad debt.

In the end the taxpayers are out hundreds of thousands of dollars and any effort by lawmakers exercising oversight to attempt to fully inform and protect the taxpayers by guaranteeing the debt would be paid, were ignored by state actors at the highest levels of the NDOC – and ultimately, the Attorney General’s office.

Even when all the owed money and failures to enforce contract terms were made public, both of those agencies cite attorney client privilege in an effort to deny taxpayers any information on which agency or individual bears responsibility for negotiating away their rights or interest in recovering the money lost by the prison/Alpine operation.

Connett bears responsibility for forcing Alpine’s inmate workers to perform duties for Alpine without receiving wages – slave labor?  Bulloch and Connett admitted to the IFC that Alpine owed prisoners $78,000 in unpaid wages and only after the story became public did Bulloch finally pay those wages in September and October 2012.

If the NDOC paid the owed inmate wages out of department funds, they did so without legal authorization and in direct violation of the terms of the Alpine contract.  In either case though the inmates finally got paid, the balance of nearly half a million dollars is now the responsibility of taxpayers to reimburse.

This is why the legislature proposed, passed – and Governor Sandoval signed – SB 478 to strengthen oversight, require posting of security, bond or personal guarantees on proposed new prison industry projects; to protect inmate workers, local businesses, workers and taxpayers equally.  It is also why Senator Bryan had reservations concerning the wording of proposed AR 854.

CONFLICT OF INTEREST?

After the last BPC meeting concluded, several questions remained unanswered.  One is why Deputy Director Connett continued to allow Alpine steel to default from 2009 through 2012 without taking any steps to cure the default or stop the operation as allowed under the agreenent?  The contract has specific actions to be taken within 30 days of any default yet Connett failed to initiate any of the provisions called for in the contract when a default was triggered.  This lack of action led to more and more debt piling up that ultimately has cost the state.

Some have conjectured that possibly there was some form of corruption involved in the relationship between Bulloch and Connett, suggesting a possible “quid pro quo” situation.  There is no evidence to support this theory, no document or verifiable statements made by third parties have surfaced to sustain such a speculation so it remains just that – an unfounded speculation.

However, what isn’t speculation is the fact that Nevada’s prison industry program has been operating like an uncontrolled private venture with company executives avoiding any accountability or responsibility to shareholders for their actions.  Only in this case the “venture” had access to unlimited funding with tax dollars and the “shareholders” are Nevada taxpayers.

One of the worst elements of this default was the forcing of prisoners to work for a private company without wages – especially at a scale below that required under the contract.  Cox and Connett not only have a duty to the taxpayers to not waste the department’s appropriations, it also has a duty to not exploit prisoners in their care, custody and control.  Inmates have no choice in their work assignments and cannot simply walk off the job when not paid.  These NDOC officials made a conscious decision to force prisoners to work for this private manufacturer without pay which financially benefited Alpine substantially

None of the concerns voiced by the legislature, administration and media address the fact that prisoners in state custody were made to work for a private company without pay.  This wasn’t working in the laundry; kitchen or cleaning up the prison…this work was for a private company that profited from that forced labor.

Since Connett’s appointment as Deputy Director, several key and important changes began to take effect.  One was an immediate increase in debt owed to the NDOC.  Contractors such as Alpine began falling behind on lease and other payments indicating a failure by the NDOC to enforce contract provisions and cure such defaults.  The industry’s accounts receivable (outstanding or uncollected accounts due) rose sharply to nearly $1 million dollars in uncollected income and in 2010 Connett turned over $800,000 of that outstanding debt to a collection agency to attempt to recover.

When Connett assumed control of the prison industry it had a “contingency fund” of $1.5 million dollars to work with.  Since 2008 this fund has been used to the extent it now contains only $500,000.

With the Nevada prison industry oversight authority limited to nothing more than an “advisory” body, the NDOC continuously ignored the Committee’s recommendations and operated as it wished.  The agency began to successfully bypass the legislative requirement that the BPC review all new or proposed industries, further hiding industry operations.  This led to the NDOC operating the prison industry program without oversight, legislative controls or interference.

Contributing to this portrayal of the state’s faltering prison industry program is the real possibility that Deputy Director Connett’s duties to the people of Nevada and the NDOC have been compromised due to a concurrent position he holds with the National Correctional Industries Association (NCIA).

The NCIA is a trade association that actively lobbies at the federal, state, and local levels for continued funding for the expansion and effective administration of prison industry programs and conversely, opposes legislation that would adversely impact correctional industries programs.[i]

Collectively this group represents the largest and most active advocacy in support of continued use (and expansion) of prisoner labor and maintaining inmate wages below the fair minimum wage – as shown in the below “Resolution” adopted by the NCIA in 2010:

NCIA Minimum Wage Resolution

From NCIA Library – Last Accessed 3/10

Compliance with this resolution is demonstrated by Connett’s establishing actual wages paid to Alpine’s inmate workers at or below the minimum wage, in direct violation to the terms of the NDOC contract’s prevailing wage provision.

Individual citizens, companies and others in opposition to prison labor used by private companies find themselves face to face with this large and influential group operating as a trade/lobby organization with more than forty state prison industry administrators sitting upon the NCIA Board.

Connett NCIA position

From NCIA website: http://www.nationalcia.org/

Connett is the current Chairman of the NCIA Board while also serving as Deputy Director of Silver State Industries and as such he has one foot in each camp.  As Chairman of the NCIA Connett has a duty to expand prison industry operations, keep companies partnered with each state prison industry operation and limit the wages paid to inmate workers.  It would be detrimental to the NCIA to have to disclose that in his own state Connett had to pay inmates a prevailing wage or had to close a prison industry.  This could be one reason Connett failed to act responsibly, refusing to take any curative actions when Alpine first began to default.

There may be other theories as to why Connett failed to enforce the terms of the Alpine contract and spent time and energy attending Committee meetings and legislative hearings in an attempt to keep the Alpine operation open – in spite of numerous calls to close it down and the growing debt to the state.  Unfortunately to date, no one has been able to secure any response on the “why” from Connett or Director Cox, who continue to cite attorney client privilege on all questions posed on this topic.  Though the media has posed those questions, the BPC, IFC and legislature has not.

Several requests for documents and information have been made to the NDOC and Director Cox in an attempt to gather information necessary to establish precisely the reason for Connett’s actions.  As this article goes to publication, there has been no response from the NDOC – other than citing attorney client privilege – from Director Cox or Deputy Director Connett (who is also the NDOC Public Information Officer).

NDOC public relations officer

As the Deputy Director, Public Information Officer and the Chairman of the NCIA, Connett has a vast amount of power and influence.  He is able to choose new industry programs, decide the material released to the public about proposed or existing programs…and he holds a key position in the private agency overseeing, determining and enforcing policies and standards involving all prison labor and industries in the U.S.

As the DD, Connett failed to enforce compliance to protect the agency and taxpayers when Alpine began to default and in the end he attempted to withhold public information about Alpine’s failures while publicly applauding  the use of prison labor to manufacture steel components for the SkyVue Observation Wheel.

Responses to questions sent to Director Cox come from Connett as the PIO.  Each official response to queries for this article has come via email without Connett’s name or signature affixed.

The BPC, IFC Committee, Board of Examiners and lawmakers rely upon data, compliance certifications and other information provided to them by the NDOC Deputy Director.  The DD has a duty to advise these Committees, Boards and lawmakers with full, factual information for those bodies to use when making critical decisions regarding prison industries; new projects, status of existing operations and contract compliance.  Connett has demonstrated he is willing to withhold critical information and facts from these official bodies when it benefits his operations.  Under his authority there has been little transparency in prison industry operations.

As shown, Connett simply has “too many dogs” in the hunt to remain the sole authority selecting new programs, or determining the impact upon private sector workers and businesses from his industry operations.  Those important determinations should be made by others with no personal involvement riding on the outcome.

Failing to provide full facts to Boards and Committees, or withholding important information that is significant when considering prison industry expansions is negligent and as demonstrated can result in a huge loss to the state and taxpayers.  It also can result in underpaid inmate workers being used to lower operating expenses by one company to the detriment of his/her competitors – even working them without pay for extended periods.

NCIA Bylaws require any company partnered with a prison industry using inmate labor to become a member of their organization.  This may explain DD Connett’s continued support of an NCIA member company by his attending numerous meetings and hearings where he urged administrators and lawmakers to continue to allow Alpine to operate once the company’s defaults became public.

Hopefully the language of AR 854 will contain sections allowing for a committee or board to make determinations as to the impact upon competing businesses and labor when new industries are proposed or considered.  Having those important tasks in the hands of the one individual – or agency – seeking to implement any new contract or anticipated new industry truly is a case of the “fox guarding the hen-house…”

To avoid any appearance of impropriety the NDOC should operate under joint authority of the BPC, IFC and legislature.  The prison industry has to operate within the parameters set by those state bodies without deviation and under tight oversight provisions.  Continuing to allow the NDOC and prison industries to operate without requiring adherence to recommendations made by responsible legislative and control authorities, makes another Alpine-styled situation a real possibility.

It is now generally known and accepted that the SkyVue wheel is a stalled project that may never be completed.  Bulloch’s claim that he had this contract sewn up and would pay back his outstanding debt to the state once the project started in earnest was a promise he would not have been able to fulfill.  It is likely that if the BPC allowed Alpine’s prison industry operation to remain open as Connett suggested, the state could now be on the hook for millions more in unpaid debt from Alpine as prisoners manufactured components for the SkyVue project.

In this case it was half a million lost through the NDOC Deputy Director’s failure to apply available cures to a single contract’s defaults.  It could easily have been millions more if local business had not raised the alarm last year and organized labor had not joined forces with them.

As the Alpine story has shown us all, a lack of adequate oversight will result in Nevada’s workers, businesses and prisoners to suffer.  Taxpayers bear the burden of making up losses that accrue in the absence of true oversight and firm controls.  Without proper oversight the NDOC and its programs can operate in a fiscally irresponsible manner without fear of consequences.

Next month Director Cox will present the BPC with new finalized Administrative Regulations pertaining to operating the state’s prison industry program(s).  It is hoped that those regulations will provide genuine safeguards to protect everyone (staff, inmate workers, private businesses, unemployed workers and taxpayers) from exploitation such as that which occurred with Alpine Steel.


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.

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.

Nevada Ways and Means Committee Weighs in on Prison Industry Battle

The Result of Bureaucrats’ Operating as Businessmen

By VLTP Executive Director, Bob Sloan

In the continuing saga of Nevada’s Silver State Industries (SSI), the Legislature’s Ways and Means Committee held a hearing this past Friday, March 8th to discuss the budget of the Nevada DOC which includes state prison industry operations.

Critics of the industry program have found traction with the discovery that Alpine Steel, a private company, had access to inmate labor, subsidized facility leases and even with those subsidized benefits owed the state more than $400,000 in accrued debt.  In late 2012 when this story first broke, it was discovered that Alpine also owed inmate workers back wages to the tune of $78,000.  Because inmates are “assigned” to industry jobs by the NDOC, they were prohibited from simply quitting or asking for a reassignment due to not being paid.  They worked for an extended period without receiving any compensation for their labor – or if they were paid the wages did not come from their employer, Alpine Steel.

Connett and Cox pix

On Friday morning Committee members had an opportunity to question two top NDOC officials, Director Cox and his Deputy Director in charge of prison industries, Brian Connett.  Those in attendance described the meeting as tense between lawmakers and corrections officials.

Once this story broke in the media, Alpine made the necessary back wage payments to the inmate workers – but continues to owe the state for delinquent lease payments and NDOC staff salaries.  One Assemblyman asked the Deputy Director if the state had paid those salaries, and if so had Alpine repaid the outstanding wages.  The response was a half-truth, with Connett responding, “The back wages have all been paid.”  In fact those wages are part of the total $415,000 owed by Alpine.  The wages already paid are those owed to inmate workers – not NDOC staffers, which remain outstanding.

At times lawmakers displayed exasperation as they attempted to extract factual answers from Cox and Connett, who had difficulty answering direct questions related to prison industry operations; failing industry programs, financial losses and low cost leases of public facilities to private companies.

Cox and Connett were even less open about the situation involving Alpine Steel’s use of inmate labor to compete against other businesses in Southern Nevada, or the huge sum owed by Alpine to the NDOC for back lease and DOC staff payments.

Though lawmakers voiced concerns of the impact upon workers in the private sector and competing businesses, Cox and Connett did not seem to share those concerns, instead advocating that inmates need training while incarcerated to help reduce recidivism.  The irony of turning prisoner training over to a company with a history of questionable business practices – IRS tax liens ($668,000+), $415,000 in back lease and DOC staff salary obligations, unpaid state taxes (new Nevada Dept. of Taxation lien for $37,000 filed within the past month against Alpine’s owner, Randy Bulloch), lawsuits for money owed to creditors (F&M Steel and Pierce Aluminum) and is in litigation over unpaid worker’s compensation claims ($84,716 owed to Explorer Insurance Co.) – was apparently lost on Director Cox.

After all the controversy, debt owed to the state and concerns of both Nevada’s organized labor, workers and private businesses, Cox appeared openly insensitive to both issues by advising Committee members if Alpine’s business picked up, he would reopen the metal fabrication shop at High Desert State Prison to the company! This is indicative of a bureaucrat who genuinely believes he can make such decisions without consulting higher government or legislative authorities.

The general attitude of both was that inmate training was more important than the possible loss of jobs to Nevada’s unemployed steel workers, the potential for lost tax dollars or the impact upon businesses competing with Alpine Steel – or any of the half dozen other companies operating under joint venture contracts with Silver State Industries.

At one point Connett indicated that some of those complaining had been offered a chance to “partner” with the prison industry and had declined, seeming to suggest those businesses shared responsibility for any damage resulting from competition from prison industry operations…because they didn’t take him up on the offer.

Some answers provided to the Committee were enlightening, if incomplete.  Director Cox stated,”the cold hard facts are now that we have to aggressively look at what industries are not turning a profit.”

In addition to losses sustained by prison industry operations, the administrative office is operating in the red ($165,000+ over past two years), the industries’ furniture and metal, auto, upholstery and drapery shops have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars during the past few years.  Collectively Silver State Industries lost $81,597 in 2011 and $237,793 last year overall.

In 2010 the prison industries turned over more than $800,000 in accounts receivable to a collection agency and currently SSI’s past due AR account is in excess of $600,000.  In the budget discussion it was disclosed that the prison industry arm of the NDOC had a reserve fund of $1.5 million which due to continuous losses has been reduced to half a million.  If forced to absorb Alpine’s debt, the reserve fund will be exhausted.

David Bobzien, D-RenoIn response to the dwindling reserve, Assemblyman David Bobzien, D-Reno voiced concern that when that reserve is exhausted, the prison industry would begin to dip into the general revenue fund, saying, “This is a clear track into the dirt, and without substantial retooling, it’ll be in the hole”

 

 

Catherine Cortez Masto, Michael Sprinkle, John Hambrick

Bobzien and Assemblyman Michael Sprinkle, D-Sparks, questioned Cox about whether industry programs would be cut and what the department would do to get its industry program on a sustainable track.

Cox said he’s “very pessimistic” about future revenues and that “when resources go, of course programs will go.”  They were unable to get Cox to provide them with definitive responses or propose solutions to cure the industry’s financial woes.

Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick

“It appears that at some point the reserves are going to run out, but in the meantime, it’s a loss-loss across the state,” Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, said, weighing in.  Kirkpatrick also had difficulty getting straight answers to some of her questions on business management issues and as to whether the prison industry program is really about training or rather a work program, putting inmates to work for privately owned companies at the expense of non-inmate workers.

Big House ChoppersIn supporting the prison industry operations, Connett pointed to the “Big House Chopper” program.  An industry created by Howard Skolnik when he was in Connett’s position.  While using that program as an indicator of the work inmates were capable of and alluding that this industry was successful, he failed to advise the Committee that he closed that program two years previously:

 

“Mr. Magnani said some time ago the motorcycle production was shut down, there was some motorcycles that Prison Industries was attempting to sell online. Mr. Magnani requested an update to the status of the built motorcycles. Mr. Connett informed the Committee that three motorcycles were for sale. Prison Industries was looking at reducing the price based on the current market. The motorcycle operation has been discontinued.”

Prison Industries manufactured a total of five motorcycles.  Two of those were sold in a “sweetheart deal” to one of Connett’s other prison industry companies, Thomson Equipment.  Despite vigorous advertising on eBay and other outlets, the remaining three have now sat for several years without any interest shown by potential buyers.  Another example of funds wasted to advance a prison project that has eaten away at the profits generated by other industries – both in dollars spent for materials as well as advertising.

Clearly referring to the motorcycle industry, the Deputy Director exhibited these half-truths to the Ways and Means Committee in an attempt to justify the need and usefulness of continued “training” of prisoners – whether the industry providing the training is viable or not.  In the case of Big House Choppers, it is long gone.

Examinations of the financial statement(s) for SSI for 2011-12 reflect that traditional prison industries such as farming, ranching, license plates, prison garment(s) and printing were all profitable.  It is the industries operating in partnership with private companies that are failing; metal shop (Alpine), drapery, automotive and upholstery for example.

Not only are these failing industries losing money, they are the ones negatively impacting upon private workers, potential workers and suppressing expansion of competing Nevada businesses.  These are also the industries that have been receiving substantial tax and lease benefits that are denied to competing businesses, resulting in an unfair advantage.  Companies using inmate labor do not appear to be paying Nevada’s Modified Business Tax, which further depletes the tax base while increasing potential corporate profits and disadvantaging their competitors.

Another issue of contention was the lease agreement between SSI and Alpine.  In 2011 Alpine was in arrears yet Connett authorized a lease contract that provided 19,000 square feet of manufacturing space at the unbelievable rate of $.26 cents per square foot ($5,000 per month).  The Nevada average for such space has been depressed due to the recession, but is currently at $.68 cents per square foot.  For the same square footage a private company would pay $12,990 per month in the “free world.”  This saved Alpine as much as $95,000 a year in operating expenses.  Assemblyman Bobzien called the Alpine lease an “unfair subsidy”.  There was no question as to how many of the other companies partnered with SSI were receiving similar low cost leases.

All of the losses described above, lead to more than an “appearance” of total mismanagement.  It is assumed that Greg Cox was chosen as the Director of the NDOC based upon an ongoing career in corrections.  He wasn’t chosen for his business acumen.  Putting him in charge of overseeing contracts, leasing arrangements and other commercial business decisions appears to be well outside his expertise.  Between them, Cox and Connett have made decisions that have negatively impacted taxpayers, private businesses and Nevada’s workers – yet when called before a legislative body to explain those decisions, they exhibited their lack of actual knowledge and experience in business practices.  Making matters worse they demonstrated they were willing to blunder through and by making statements claiming they would reopen the prison metal industry to Alpine Steel…and claiming Alpine Steel deserved a lower lease rate because of the difficulties of getting materials in and out of the prison and transportation logistics.

Again it needs to be said that those are matters for someone higher along the government chain to consider and make the final decision on.  It is unrealistic to allow a Deputy Director or Director to enter into binding contracts and leases that reduce the revenue streams from leasing state owned property or facilities.  It is also unrealistic to give Cox or Connett the authority to waive payments owed for leases, salaries or materials owed to the state.  By assuming these duties, these bureaucrats were gambling with taxpayer money, betting on Alpine Steel and similar companies to ultimately become viable and repay debts owed – debts they allowed to accrue and are now having difficulty justifying.  All can now see they lost that wager, with Alpine Steel and other companies owing NDOC more than $600,000 collectively.

 

Danny ThompsonIn the public discussion period following the questioning of Cox and Connett, Danny Thompson, executive secretary treasurer of the Nevada AFL-CIO discussed the impact upon non-inmate workers on the outside from contracts such as that between SSI and Alpine.  He brought up the issue of safety to Nevada citizens that travel over or under a bridge spanning Interstate 15 that was constructed using prisoners in a “training program”. He said Alpine Steel produced steel girders for the construction project at the North Fifth Street Bridge in North Las Vegas and he questioned whether strict certification requirements for such projects were complied with in the training of inmate workers.

Thompson also called into question whether the materials used in the project met strict industry, state and federal specifications as to stress, weight and other factors involving materials used in the project – and wanted to know if inspections were conducted properly.  He also expressed concerns over the Wet ‘N’ Wild theme park project where Alpine was the structural steel contractor, saying he worried about the safety of children and families who would be visiting the park where inmates in training made many of the steel components.

CONWAY ROBERT PDA member of the Iron Workers Union, Local 433, Robert Conway also spoke, stating he had three hundred and fifty qualified iron workers without jobs, while the state was helping provide inmate welders for Alpine at wages far below the prevailing wage.  He also voiced concerns over the safety issues raised by allowing inmate steel workers to fabricate steel components used in public projects.

In response to criticism from Committee members and the public, Alpine owner, Randy Bulloch appeared via teleconference from Las Vegas and issued a statement in response to Thompson’s concerns, claiming that inmate workers were in fact certified as required.  He denied the use of structural steel components manufactured by Alpine in the bridge project and added that he had copies of material inspections and specs.  Bulloch spoke about his company in general terms but made no effort to defend the use of prison labor in the manufacture of structural steel used in his business.  It should be noted that Alpine Steel makes no mention on their website of the use of prison labor in manufacturing steel components, or that the company is involved in helping train prisoners.  That factoid is noticeably absent – as it is with TJ Wholesale and Jacob’s Trading, two other companies partnered with SSI and leasing facilities from the NDOC.

What wasn’t posed to Connett and Cox in the questioning by the Assembly Committee was the issue of a potential conflict of interest involving Nevada’s prison industry and compliance oversight.

The trade group, National Correctional Industries Association (NCIA) provides oversight over all prison industries in the U.S. and of late, internationally.  The NCIA does this under a grant from the Bureau of Justice Assistance.

This trade group advocates and lobbies on behalf of companies, corporations and organizations involved in prison industry operations, supplying those operations or benefiting from the labor of inmates.  Connett is currently serving as the  Chairman of the NCIA and thus able to make determinations as to whether his actions and thus SSI are in compliance with prevailing laws.

Many of the questions posed to Cox and Connett by the Committee members arose due to a comprehensive study I conducted for the non-profit Voters Legislative Transparency Project (VLTP) organization. As Executive Director with an interest in prison industries, I have been involved in researching and investigating prison industry programs for more than a decade.  In January VLTP submitted the study of Nevada’s prison industries to members of the Nevada legislature, Governor Sandoval, AG Masto and Secretary of State, Ross Miller.

In that report many of the deficiencies and issues discussed Friday were presented along with documentation supporting the conclusions and recommendations made.  The questions posed by Committee members indicates they had all read the study and wanted answers to the questions raised by the research.

One observation made during the research phase of compiling the study, is that it appears that Cox, Connett and the NDOC are attempting to run the state department of corrections as a “business” rather than a state agency.  Partnering with businessmen and women who deal daily in matters of profit/loss and market share, the NDOC is woefully unprepared, as the accounts receivable and low-cost lease to Alpine demonstrate.  Director Cox, Connett and the NDOC seem not to understand that any losses arising from these partnerships between SSI and private companies are ultimately borne by Nevada’s taxpayers.  This already happened in 2010 when Cox’s predecessor, Howard Skolnik applied for a Supplemental appropriation from the Legislature due to losses incurred from recession and reductions in prison industry income.

With more than a million in uncollected debt since 2010 and lost streams of revenue due to sub-par leases, industries losing hundreds of thousands of dollars annually, the NDOC is being critically mismanaged.  As a state agency, it is the taxpayer who will be left making up the lost revenue from this lack of management.

One recommendation made directly to the Governor was that Nevada adopts the in-place mandatory guidelines of the Prison Industries Enhancement Certification Program (Pie Program).  This program allows joint ventures between private companies and state prison industries.  It provides a way for private enterprise to have access to inmate labor and to distribute products across state lines, sell to the U.S. government in amounts exceeding $10,000 and to sell those goods in consumer markets.

The Pie Program has nine mandatory requirements and four of those developed by Congress for this program include:

  • Wages. Authority to pay wages at a rate not less than that paid for work of a similar nature in the locality in which the work is performed.
  • Non-inmate worker displacement. Written assurances that PIECP will not result in the displacement of employed workers; be applied in skills, crafts, or trades in which there is a surplus of available gainful labor in the locality; or significantly impair existing contracts.
  • Consultation with organized labor. Written proof of consultation with organized labor prior to program startup.
  • Consultation with local private industry. Written proof of consultation with local private industry prior to program startup.

Nevada is already participating in this program and has Pie Program operations running in the prison industry.  Those businesses appear to be operating without financial losses to the state or SSI, in compliance with the mandatory requirements and thus, not exhibiting any of the problems the non-Pie Program involving Alpine is.

Adopting these regulations would ensure consultation with competing businesses, labor groups, and unions ensuring inmates are paid the required prevailing wage.  Since the NDOC deducts 24.5% of the gross wages paid to inmate workers, the amount taken through this deduction would increase and those funds would be used to offset the costs of incarceration. Combine adopting these guidelines with genuine oversight provided by the Nevada Board of Prison Commissioners, chaired by Governor Sandoval and I believe this is a solution to the existing problems experienced by the NDOC.

Continuing to allow a private non-profit trade association to oversee the state’s prison industries in the face of the controversy that has erupted while they had such oversight duties, is asking for more trouble.  As the head of the NCIA Connett has demonstrated he lacks the desire to enforce compliance and he is willing to put the interests of that organization above his responsibilities to the state.

Lawmakers Lambaste Money-Losing Prison Industries Program

Lawmakers Lambaste Money-Losing Prison Industries Program

We have been posting about an investigation into prison labor violations in Nevada.  Three posts by VLTP Executive Director Bob Sloan, which you can access here, here, and here.  After exposing this to the entire Nevada State Legislature, Governor Sandoval (R), AG Masto (D), and Union leaders, and aided by an interview on the Dana Gentry Show just over a month ago, the ball started rolling fast. 

Elected leaders and Union leaders realized that they were being  at the least, misled by DOC Chief Cox and Nevada Department of Corrections Public Information Officer Brian Connett (who, not so incidentally, also NCIA logo  serves as the head of NCIA and is likely guilty of a serious conflict of interest) and reacted quickly to the information provided to them by Bob.

 

Today, elected officials had a special hearing to address the information about Messrs. Cox and Connett.  Many questions were obviously formed from the Cox and Connettinvestigative report that Bob had  researched and submitted to the Legislature, Governor, Attorney General and Secretary of State.

The following article from the Las Vegas Sun – complete with Bob’s comments – show that there are a lot of powerful people who are very upset and embarrassed about being defrauded.  The disgust was bipartisan, as the impact on Nevada taxpayers and the abuse of prison laborers united both progressives and conservatives in condemning the actions of Cox and Connett.

There is still a lot more to happen until this situation is fully and properly resolved, including what to do about the legal transgressions and tax issues. This issue will be discussed next at an open meeting of the Nevada commission sometime later this month. Bob Sloan will be writing his own article on the events to date, but for now I’d like to present you with the MSM Newspaper coverage of today’s events to bring you up-to-speed on what is happening as the result of Bob’s investigation for VLTP.  All emphasis is mine.

————————————-

From the Las Vegas Sun, by   (contact)

Friday, March 8, 2013 | 4:03 p.m. CARSON CITY — Legislators lambasted the state’s prison industry program Friday. They bemoaned the financial losses the program has incurred during the past few years and further decried the possibility that prisoners could be unduly competing with the private sector for scarce jobs.

“It appears that at some point the reserves are going to run out, but in the meantime, it’s a loss-loss across the state,” Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, said at a legislative committee meeting, noting that the state would lose money and the private sector could lose jobs.

The prison industries program uses voluntary prison labor to run various shops with some proceeds from sales paying for restitution and room and board for prisoners; the prisoners receive training and skills they can later use to find a job when they are no longer incarcerated.

Department of Corrections chief Greg Cox conceded that the program has been a money loser during recent years but still defended the merits of the Silver State Industries program.

“We have been able to say historically this is helping us operate our facilities, it’s a good management tool, and it provides vocational training,” he told legislators. “The cold hard facts are now that we have to aggressively look at what industries are not turning a profit.”

The prison industries’ furniture and metal shop, auto and upholstery shop, and drapery shop have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars during the past few years.

Others, like the mattress, print and garment shops have turned small profits. But those surpluses aren’t enough to offset losses in the other shops, and the department has been drawing down reserves as a result.

“This is a clear track into the dirt, and without substantial retooling, it’ll be in the hole,” Assemblyman David Bobzien, D-Reno, said.

Bobzien and Assemblyman Michael Sprinkle, D-Sparks, tried to wrangle an answer from Cox about which programs would be cut and what the department would do to get its industry program on a sustainable track.

Cox said he’s “very pessimistic” about future revenues and that “when resources go, of course programs will go.”

He cited the auto shop, the biggest money loser, as one program that could be under the chopping block.

Cox faced further criticism for the prison industry’s public-private partnership with Alpine Steel, which owes the state about $400,000.

The company also got a below-market rate lease to operate within High Desert State Prison, which Bobzien called an unfair subsidy.

The challenge of convincing a business to work within a prison environment necessitated the need for a cheap rate, said Nevada Department of Corrections Public Information Officer Brian Connett. (note: there’s a whole lot of conflict-of-interest here).

Danny Thompson, of the AFL-CIO, also protested Alpine Steel’s use of cheap prison labor.

“They’re displacing people who are out of work with prisoners,” he said. “There’s no way you can compete. … I have 300 out-of-work ironworkers who are not criminals.”

He said Alpine Steel produced steel girders for a construction project at the North Fifth Street Bridge in North Las Vegas.

Calling into question the quality of prison labor, he said the potential lack of certification and training for prison laborers could lead to unsafe construction on a public road over Interstate 15.

The company’s owner, Randy Bulloch, testified to legislators that his company did no work on girders for that project and that the prison laborers have required certifications.

Cox also said Alpine Steel is on a payback program and is no longer operating within the state’s prison system, although that could change in the future.

and now for Bob’s comment posted to the Las Vegas Sun’s article:

  1. By bobsloan

March 8, 2013 8:32 p.m. Director Cox seemed to be at a loss for solutions to the many problems surrounding his prison industries – and on how to damper the criticisms aimed at him because of the industry program. Some obvious solutions that could have been suggested to the legislature today never came up in the responses the NDOC Director and his Deputy provided to pertinent questions. They could have suggested ways to stop the industries from losing money, such as enforcing collection of lease payments, owed salaries for staff.

Reevaluate all facility leases private companies enjoy with prison industries and increase them comparable to similar leases in the private sector – you know at the rate all other Nevada businesses pay for manufacturing space. They could have suggested not extending credit (tax dollars) to companies partnering with the prison industries. The decision on reducing lease rates to private companies on publicly owned property or facilities should not be a decision made by a Deputy Director, rather one made by the Board of Prison Commissioners.

Taxpayers rely upon Director Cox to protect their interests. Entering into leases that cost those taxpayers as much as $90,000 per year in potential income does not generate trust – or a lessening in deficits. To use such low cost leases as an “incentive” to encourage companies to bring manufacturing to the prison industries is an expenditure that should be authorized at a higher pay grade. It was disheartening to learn that after owing the state more than $400,000 for four years the company in question was offered an agreement to repay the money over an additional four year+ period without even interest penalties. Director Cox added insult to injury by declaring that if Alpine Steel’s work picked up he would reopen the prison industry to him.

That statement alone left the impression the Director was willing to move forward with a partnership that has already cost the state nearly a half million dollars – and let that company amass more debt as if the NDOC can extend state subsidies in the face of legislative objections or concerns.

NDOC & Silver State Industries – Meet the Exploiters – Expose on Prison Labor in Nevada Pt. II

Second in a Three Part Expose on Prison Labor in Nevada Displacing Workers

(Reposted from January 11th)

By Bob Sloan – Prison Industry Consultant

SSI GarmentWorking on the “Chain-Gang” was how prisoners were punished for their crimes in days gone by – and people who had been victims of crime were happy.

Then we became “civilized” as a society and changed laws, regulations and opinions that eliminated these hard forms of punishment and degradation.  Instead of harsh working conditions we made sentences longer, believing that to be more humane.  Parole was abolished; possession of a “joint” was enough for a mandatory five years in prison.

Problem was, all this incarceration was costing taxpayers ever more in corrections costs.  Lawmakers sought ways to reduce the ever-increasing expense of incarceration.

An idea was born: create prison industries where prisoners could be put to work to “earn their keep” and reduce the incarceration costs borne by taxpayers.  Soon another idea was floated, let private manufacturers gain access to the prison run factories and further reduce the expense of housing, feeding and providing medical care to prisoners.  Inmates can be taught work ethics, products made by them will cost us less and recidivism will be reduced…and once again the people were happy.

Problem is, this program has created more opportunity for crime and exploitation – of the prisoners themselves. Instead of prison populations shrinking, they grew.  This growth was due to more laws, stiffer sentences, the war on drugs and increasing penalties.  Alongside that population the prison industries grew even faster with more inmates came more job positions.

This labor force exists in a near vacuum; no voice, no representation, disallowed from unionizing (though today an estimated six hundred thousand to one million men and women are working in prison industries nationwide), sentenced to hard labor by courts.  DOC’s assign them to jobs, and if they have existing skills needed, they are put to work in prison industries.  Industry managers seek skilled inmates with long sentences in order to quicken production, maintain shipping schedules and dependability.

Court challenges under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) about wages and deductions are mostly denied with prejudice – meaning the plaintiff is prohibited from ever filing such claims in the future.

In Florida and Nevada (just two of nearly 40 states involved), percentages of what little wages earned are taken back and given to the prison industry to help expand or create new work programs.  This aspect itself violates one of the key tenets of the federal prison industry program referred to as the “PIE Program” and there are other more critical violations resulting in our jobs being lost to prisoners.

This expose will bring to light the existence of a national network of individuals, corporations, a private association, agencies and branches of state and federal government involved in exploiting inmate labor, profiting off that exploitation and pursuing the transfer of tens of thousands of jobs from communities to prisons across the country.  Nevada ranks high on the list of states involved in violating the trust of their citizen workers, small businesses and exploiting prisoners delivered into their care.

In Nevada the prison industries are managed by Director James “Greg” Cox and Deputy Director, Brian Connett.  Previously one individual held both of those positions as prison industry programs were developing back in the last quarter of the 1900’s – Howard Skolnik.  He set the stage for what is occurring today and now, Cox and Connett carry on in his stead.
Howard Skolnik

Harold Skolnik

Running an entire state prison system is a daunting task.  Housing, medical care, work programs, staffing, budgeting, and regulatory and Legislative compliance impacting prisons.  The Director of Nevada’s Department of Corrections is James “Greg” Cox.  He has deputy directors assigned to the various divisions of the DOC, and in general I believe that Director Cox and his Deputies are doing an admirable job.  The one exception to my observation involves the DOC’s Prison Industrial Program.

One of Cox’s responsibilities is the operations of the prison industrial work programs.   His Deputy Director for Industrial Programs is Brian Connett, in charge of running Silver State Industries (SSI) Nevada’s prison industries program.  Messrs. Cox and Connett are responsible for insuring that the prison industries are operated properly under state and   federal laws.

Cox and Connett

            NDOC Director, Greg Cox  |                        Deputy Director, Brian Connett

Supervising and operating Nevada’s prison industries involves approving new products, new factories, partnerships with private companies, and compliance with all applicable state and federal laws and regulations.   These are the responsibility of the Nevada Interim Finance Committee’s Committee on Industrial Programs.

For that committee to perform its duties properly, they obviously have to know and understand the parameters of the federal PIE Program’s mandatory requirements (1) that govern the use of inmate labor used by private companies.  Before they can implement any new projects, they must, among other responsibilities, notify existing competitive businesses as well as involved labor groups—after all, how can they judge whether a new prison industry will unfairly impact local labor or unfairly disadvantage competing businesses if they do not fully understand the provisions put in place by Congress to guard against such interference to free-market forces?

Unfortunately in an interview with a member of that committee, I was told he was not fully aware of the PIE Program’s mandatory requirements, and that concerned him.  He did not know that local businesses were required to be contacted prior to operational start-ups or production of new products.  More importantly, he had not been advised by anyone within NDOC or Silver State Industries that labor groups were also to be consulted.  How then can he serve on this committee without this knowledge?  How can the committee control the federal program in which Silver State Industries is participating – and how can it possibly certify to the federal government that it is, and will remain, in compliance with rules of which the members are unaware, as is required by law? This style of “consulting” is quite obviously insufficient to ensure compliance.

The federal program of prisoner training began with the passage of 18 USC 1761 in 1979. This law is known as the Prison Industries Enhancement Certification Program (commonly called PIECP or PIE Program).  (2)

Under this program Congress allowed private companies to gain access to inmate labor in order to “train” the inmates and provide skills which they could later utilize upon release.  Congress put in place nine mandatory requirements.  Failure to comply is supposed to subject violators to federal imprisonment for up to two years and/or a fine of $50,000.00 and loss of PIECP certification.

The Department of Justice outsourced policy determinations, enforcement, compliance reviews and investigations of non-compliance to a private organization in 1995–the National Correctional Industries Association.  The NCIA, (3) which is a trade group representing prison industries, their staff, employees, vendors, suppliers and companies using prison labor.  Since this transfer of program oversight, there have been a total of -0- prosecutions for violations.  As you read the following you will be appalled at how such a zero-sum figure is possible…
Once the NCIA assumed a duty of crafting policy for this program, they began to interpret the nine mandatory requirement in the light most favorable to their corporate members, (4) adjusting annual assessment determinations to reflect alterations designed entirely by them.  The NCIA made these alterations and the entire program was changed.

The mandated prevailing wage requirement was changed to minimum wage scale computed to the 10th percentile, and allowed these prison industries to institute a pre-training program where wages could be reduced to as little as $.20 per hour. (5)

In December, 2010 the BJA (Bureau of Justice Assistance) issued a Back Wage Policy (6) that unequivocally reinforced the prevailing wage requirement and refuted the wage assumptions made by the NCIA. (7)

The claim that lower wages are fair to “competitor manufacturers” is false.  Furthermore, in Nevada a high percentage of inmates working in the industry are serving long sentences or life terms (as reported by CNN) (8), meaning that the skills they are taught will likely never be applied in the private sector.

A Florida report containing research provided to Governor Scott by his 2010 transition Law and Order team found that 28% (9) of the prison workforce was comprised of lifers or prisoners serving sentences with ten or more years remaining until release.  So what transferable skills are they learning?

Silver State Industries has set the PIE Program maximum wage for all inmate workers at the 10th percentile of the state/federal minimum wage.  Unless the “prevailing wage” is set by the state OES (10) at minimum wage for all occupations in NV, the NDOC is out of compliance with the mandatory wage requirement.

The NCIA also determined that mandatory notification to local labor groups, unions and competing private businesses about new or existing industry projects or products, could be satisfied by informing local Chambers of Commerce, or advertising in classified sections of newspapers.  Compliance review personnel were told these requirements were already on file with the NCIA and had been verified (11) and would not be a part of the annual compliance review.

These changes resulted in a substantial reduction in wages to inmate workers, creating a huge and low paid labor force used to attract business owners seeking to expand operations or reduce labor costs.  The NCIA produced a video entitled “Cutting Through The Perceptions” (12) to be used in marketing prison labor to private companies.  By neglecting to pay proper wages and neglecting to notify labor and free enterprise, prison industries began to expand and grow quickly as one would expect.

As the video shows, this prison program is not for training, it is a way to provide skilled labor to private companies to reduce labor costs, increase production and avoid typical “benefits” they would have to pay to private sector employees.

This brings us to the current situation involving Silver State Industries and Alpine Steel in Nevada, and complaints lodged with the Board of State Prison Commissioners by XL Steel and others who have also complained about unfair competition and the loss of private sector jobs to inmate labor.

This all serves to show you how the PIE program has been manipulated, changed and altered to provide the maximum savings to companies involved in prison labor, while paying the least possible wages to a truly captive workforce.

Now that you readers understand the laws which are involved, I will document the specific violations committed in Nevada involving those regulating the state DOC and Silver State Industries.

Recent reports (13) from Las Vegas reveal it recently came to the attention of companies competing with Alpine Steel in the structural steel fabrication industry, that Alpine had been using prison labor as a means of undercutting all competitors on projects requiring bids.  Labor unions were unaware of the PIECP program.  Union officials had no understanding of the PIE Program or that they were to be consulted prior to the startup of any PIE project or industry.

It defies belief that SSI could have been reviewed by the NCIA in 2011 (14) and found in full compliance…except for one little conflict-of-interest kept from the public and apparently also from the Nevada legislature and the Board of State Prison Commissioners:  NDOC Deputy Director Brian Connett is also President of the NCIA (15) with a responsibility for ensuring, enforcing and certifying full compliance of all state prison industries to the BJA.

Harder yet to comprehend is how Mr. Connett has been able to enforce and certify industry-wide compliance, when he and Director Cox claim to have not known or understood the regulations while just now admitting SSI and NDOC are in violation?

The NCIA receives a sizable grant from the BJA (out of tax dollars) to perform compliance duties, essentially receiving a subsidy for self-oversight of an industry generating annual sales of $2.4 billion dollars. (16)

Under questioning by Governor Sandoval and others at a recent meeting of the State Board of Prison Commissioners, Director Cox admitted (17)that his “agency has not been performing necessary checks to ensure inmate work programs are not taking jobs from private industry workers.”  Mr. Cox went on to say, “The process has not been followed, it should have been.”

Mr. Cox indicated that, “he will develop regulations to require that prison industry programs be approved by the Prison Commissioners Board, chaired by Gov. Brian Sandoval.”

However, new regulations are not necessary.  Existing Pie Program regulations need enforcement and true oversight provided by someone other than those participating in the program.  SSI’s inmate workers for Alpine Steel are a prime example of the lack of enforcement.  Alpine pays inmates working as structural steel fabricators the state minimum wage of $8.25 per hour (18) and no benefits.  The Nevada OES sets the mean hourly wage for such skills at $17.63. (19)

Even using the NCIA’s 10th percentile rate, these workers should be receiving no less than $11.63 per hour.  Competing companies in the structural steel industry in Las Vegas and elsewhere in Nevada pay workers the median wage of $16.91 per hour plus benefits.  Without factoring benefits, private companies are thus required to pay more than double the rate paid by Alpine.  A serious disadvantage prohibited by the PIE Program wage requirement, and contrary to congressional intent.

When you multiply this discrepancy times the number of participating states, and times the number of inmates employed in the program, you can see and understand the massive wage savings provided to companies such as Alpine Steel and those discussed below.  It also helps to understand why so many of our jobs are “going to prison” literally.

Compliance problems are no stranger to Mr. Connett.  In his previous position as the PIECP Program Manager with PRIDE Enterprises, Inc. operating Florida’s entire prison industry, Connett cut corners similarly.  In the third and final segment of this expose to be published next week, I will introduce and discuss the documented corruption to which Mr. Connett was a participant. Suffice to say, Brian Connett brought a substantial amount of baggage with him to Nevada.

The controversy involving Alpine Steel is merely the latest in a series of problems with compliance by SSI.  Former NDOC Director Howard Skolnik was involved in a scheme involving inmate wage deductions when he served as Deputy Director of Industrial Programs.

In 1990 Skolnik petitioned the BJA  (20) for a determination that would allow Nevada to deduct 5% of all inmate wages earned and use those funds to expand prison industrial programs.  He was advised there were four approved deductions and no additional deductions could be imposed by his department.

This denial should have been clear and final, but in 1991 the Nevada legislature amended NRS 209.463 to allow for the 5% deduction Skolnik requested and the BJA ruled was impermissible. (21)
In 2003 Howard Skolnik advised (22) the Legislative ASSEMBLY COMMITTEE ON JUDICIARY that there were three deductions taken out of prisoner pay – 24.5% for room and board, 5% for victim restitution fund and a 5% deduction that went to a fund for the expansion of new industry programs.

Obviously the NDOC and Silver State Industries were intent upon creating a fund whether or not the controlling authority over this federal program permitted it.  In 2011 the Legislature “swept” $948,000 from this Capital Improvement Fund. (23)

Just as obviously inmates are being misused as slave labor, underpaid on PIE projects, with a maximum amount taken back as “deductions.”  The ongoing use of unauthorized and thus illegal deductions taken from inmate PIECP wages and then used as a slush fund by the Nevada Legislature, serves as out and out theft amounting to tens of thousands of dollars  (24)

This was all covered up in reports to the BJA through reviews conducted by Mr. Connett’s – formerly Mr. Skolnik’s – NCIA organization, allowing the 5% deduction to stand and certifying to the BJA that Nevada was in full compliance.

2008 NCIA Board

Both Connett and Skolnik held positions upon the NCIA board simultaneously in 2006 when Connett was the PIE Program Manager with PRIDE Enterprises in Florida.

Previously, Connett and the CEO of PRIDE also sat side by side on the NCIA board when PRIDE was committing acts later deemed illegal.

The Alpine/SSI partnership is not the only partnership that is being operated questionably in Nevada – and paying minimum wages.  Several other companies also have been given access to inmate labor and are possibly involved in displacing local workers and/or unfairly competing in the marketplace.

Thomson Equipment Company, Inc. (now Silver Line Industries, Inc.). Silver Line is owned by entrepreneurs out of New Zealand, Malaysia, and Thailand, partnered with a company in Oregon, to use inmate labor to manufacture or refurbish heavy equipment such as water trucks.

In March of 2006 the serving Deputy Director of Industrial Programs advised (25) the NEVADA LEGISLATURE’S INTERIM FINANCE COMMITTEE’S COMMITTEE ON INDUSTRIAL PROGRAMS that Thomson had been acquired by new owners in Australia and New Zealand – and water trucks were shipped from Bangkok for inmates to renovate.  (It was cheaper to use American inmate labor plus ocean freight costs than to use Thai labor!)

By 2008 when Mr. Skolnik was serving as Director of the NDOC, he and Mr. Connett advised (26) the same committee that Thomson had changed its name to Silver Line Industries.  Skolnik further advised as part of full disclosure that his daughter worked for the parent company in New Zealand.

It is unclear if Skolnik’s daughter secured her job before the 2006 acquisition of Thomson, or if that occurred after Mr. Skolnik was elevated to the Directorship of the DOC.   In either case this should have raised an issue of ethics to the members of the Industrial Programs Committee, had they been interested, a conflict-of-interest in the relationship between the NDOC Director and a family member working for a company operating under his authority.  Silver Line Industries ultimately withdrew from the PIE Program.

Another company, Jacob’s Trading Company (27) (JTC) partnered with SSI for years, but left SSI late last year.  JTC is an inventory liquidator for Wal-Mart and other large retailers.  Inmates remove bar codes, labels and other identifiers to the retailer then repackage the items and JTC sells the products through distributors to after market retailers.  Of course Wal-Mart denies (28) that they or any of their vendors or contractors uses inmate labor – period. These products are shipped back and forth across state lines, and thus come under PIECP authorization.  JTC’s operation in Nevada (29) is substantial:

“In Nevada, the entire JTC operation is housed inside the Southern Nevada Women’s Correctional Facility (30) in North Las Vegas. Jacobs is the only private employer of female prisoners in Nevada. In 2000, a female prison laborer working 40 hours a week kept just over half of what she earns. After several deductions mandated by the state prison department, she took in about $460 per month. That’s net pay of $2.67 an hour…”

Another company operating under the PIE Program was Shelby American, manufacturer of the Shelby Cobra sports cars.  Dozens of inmates at the facility received an hourly wage of at least the federal minimum to build every part of the car except the engine.  Shelby American has also closed operations with SSI but is still listed as a PIE Program participant under SSI’s certification.

In September 2012JTC closed operations at SSI’s facilities, and Like Alpine Steel, they left owing the state $115,819.44 in unpaid leases and other expenses.  According to the October figures provided to the Interim Finance Committee, SSI’s project failures have Nevada taxpayers on the hook for more than $600 thousand dollars in unpaid operating expenses or lease payments.

 There will be much more on Howard Skolnik and Brian Connett in the third and final article that will expose Mr. Connett’s efforts to avoid complying with PIECP requirements, as well as out-and-out theft of private companies while partnered with PRIDE Enterprises.   In one particular industry, Connett deliberately failed to register the industry as a PIECP operation with the BJA, resulting in prisoners receiving as little as $.20 per hour for their labor for five years…and huge profits for PRIDE and the companies partnered with PRIDE.

Last, I will further expose the NCIA and explain why they have been so successful in advancing an agenda of using inmate labor to enrich a handful of companies, their organization – at the expense of America’s taxpayers and struggling workforce.

FOOTNOTES AND EXHIBITS:

(1)https://www.ncjrs.gov/html/bja/piecp/bja-prison-industr.html

(2) http://www.nationalcia.org/piecp-2/piecp-final-guideline

(3) http://www.nationalcia.org/

(4) http://www.nationalcia.org/wp-content/uploads/Final-PIE-2011-Assessment-Summary-Report-Nov.-2011.pdf

(5)  The Training Wage Exception to the 10th Percentile Wage Floor

“BJA determined in 2006 that wages must be set at or above the 10th percentile, as defined by the State Department of Economic Security Agency. BJA takes the position that this is a “generous interpretation of comparable, yet still fair to competitor manufacturers because of the “lack of education, training, and experience typical of the inmate labor force.” The one exception to the 10th percentile requirement is that inmate workers may be paid a training wage that falls below the 10th percentile if “their employment agency provides express written agreement of a wage less than the tenth percentile for a limited training period.”

(6)  https://www.bja.gov/Funding/PIECPBackWagePolicy.pdf

(7)  It reads in part:    Background:
“18 USC 1761 (c), the statute authorizing the Prison Industry Enhancement Certification Program (PIECP), states that PIECP inmates must “have, in connection with PIECP work, received wages at a rate which is not less than that paid for work of a similar nature in the locality in which the work was performed. The Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) 1999 PIECP Guideline gives the State wage setting agencies authority to make wage determinations for PIECP workers that are comparable to those in effect for similarly situated workers.” (Emphasis mine)

(8) http://archives.cnn.com/2000/LOCAL/pacific/06/27/rjo.prison.work/index.html

(9)  http://www.scribd.com/doc/46041590/FL-Governor-Elect-Team-Report-on-DOC-and-PRIDE-2010

(10) http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nv.htm#00-0000

(11)  http://www.nationalcia.org/wp-content/uploads/09-10-PIE-Assessment-Report.pdf

(12)  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cUJHaELZQrc

(13)  http://www.lvrj.com/news/company-complains-prison-program-prevented-private-industry-jobs-183857541.html?login=y

(14)  http://www.nationalcia.org/wp-content/uploads/Final-PIE-2011-Assessment-Summary-Report-Nov.-2011.pdf   (@pg. 4)

(15) http://www.nationalcia.org/about/board-of-directors

(16)  http://www.phewacommunity.org/images/Presentation_to_the_Congressional_Black_Congress.pdf

(17) ibid. 13

(18)  http://www.dol.gov/whd/minwage/america.htm#content

(19)  http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes512041.htm
BLS - occupational wages(20) https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/Digitization/132363NCJRS.pdf

(21)   NRS 209.463  Deductions from wages earned by offender during incarceration; priority of deductions.  Except as otherwise provided in NRS 209.2475, the Director may make the following deductions, in the following order of priority, from the wages earned by an offender from any source during the offender’s incarceration:

1.  If the hourly wage of the offender is equal to or greater than the federal minimum wage:

(a) An amount the Director deems reasonable for deposit with the State Treasurer for credit to the Fund for the Compensation of Victims of Crime.

(b) An amount the Director considers reasonable to meet an existing obligation of the offender for the support of his or her family.
(c) An amount determined by the Director, with the approval of the Board, for deposit in the State Treasury for credit to the Fund for New Construction of Facilities for Prison Industries, but only if the offender is employed through a program for prison industries.

(The same deduction is taken from the wages of inmates earning less than minimum wage.  Emphasis mine)

(22) http://www.leg.state.nv.us/Session/72nd2003/Minutes/Assembly/JUD/Final/1738.html

(23)  http://www.leg.state.nv.us/Interim/76th2011/Exhibits/Industrial/E062512A.pdf

(24)  http://www.leg.state.nv.us/Interim/76th2011/Exhibits/Industrial/E092111E.pdf
NV Dept of Corrections - Prison Industries Payroll Assessment(25  http://www.leg.state.nv.us/73rd/Interim/StatCom/Industrial/Minutes/IM-Industrial-20060313-1152.html

(26)  http://www.leg.state.nv.us/74th/Interim_Agendas_Minutes_Exhibits/Minutes/Industrial/IM-Industrial-042408-10093.pdf

(27)  http://www.jacobstrading.com/index.html

(28)  http://walmartfacts.com/reports/2006/ethical_standards/documents/Wal-MartStandardsforSuppliers.pdf

(29)  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/al-norman/walmart-prison-labor_b_2224743.html

(30)  http://archives.cnn.com/2000/LOCAL/pacific/06/27/rjo.prison.work/index.html

 

Las Vegas: Prison Labor Used to Beat the Odds

Part one of a three part Expose on Prison Labor in Nevada and Beyond

(Reposted from January 11th)

By Bob Sloan – Prison Industry Consultant

lv strip 2Thousands of tourists, businessmen, CEO’s and executives from all over the world mix with citizens of Nevada in the luxury and splendor of Las Vegas’ many hotels and casinos.  Most come to this beautiful city for the gambling and incredible shows found everywhere one turns.  Inside the cool confines of casinos visitors can trust that every slot machine, roulette table and blackjack shoe is checked and monitored to guarantee fair play – no magnets under the roulette table, no dealer manipulating the cards or slots rigged to never pay out. Those trying to shave the odds are not welcome and at the first hint of cheating, find themselves on the sidewalk, banned or worse.

Each casino has a multitude of surveillance cameras to guarantee play is fair and the odds are understood by all who play the quarter slots or sit down at the high roller poker table.  To ensure such fairness, the Nevada Gaming Commission regulates every aspect of gambling in the entire state.  Strict penalties for violation of gaming regulations by casino operators keep each in line and playing by the rules.

Outside the casinos, locals find the guarantees of fair play and manipulation of odds are not so well regulated. State agencies responsible for overseeing and enforcing specific state laws and regulations have lost their vigilance.  In at least one case a state regulation involving the Nevada Department of Corrections is providing one company an unfair advantage over competitors. The prize sought isn’t a hundred dollar hit on quarter slots, its millions in profits. This is will be a big success with the prison labour as now playing poker online is legalised in NJ, New Jersey as stated in this NJ poker sites. An important aspect of this advantage provided to a single company, is an increase in Nevada’s already high 10.8% unemployment rate.

Pl Mazda insert 1The issue is an ongoing battle being waged over the use of inmate labor by a private company, Alpine Steel operating out of Las Vegas, NV.  Alpine is competing directly against other Nevada companies in the field of structural steel fabrication.  Alpine’s competitors pay fair wages, benefits, provide unemployment insurance and vacation pay, while Alpine avoids all those costs.

It is not illegal for companies to be allowed to use prison labor under current laws but there are strict state and federal regulations involved that must be met before allowing direct competition with prison made products:

Mandatory Criteria for Program Participation

Corrections departments that apply to participate in PIECP must meet all nine of the following criteria:

1. Eligibility. Authority to involve the private sector in the production and sale of inmate-made goods on the open market.

2. Wages. Authority to pay wages at a rate not less than that paid for work of a similar nature in the locality in which the work is performed.

3. Non-inmate worker displacementWritten assurances that PIECP will not result in the displacement of employed workers; be applied in skills, crafts, or trades in which there is a surplus of available gainful labor in the locality; or significantly impair existing contracts.

4. Benefits. Authority to provide inmate workers with benefits comparable to those made available by the federal or state government to similarly situated private-sector employees, including workers’ compensation and, in some circumstances, Social Security.

5. Deductions. Corrections departments may opt to take deductions from inmate worker wages. Permissible deductions are limited to taxes, room and board, family support, and victims’ compensation. If victims’ compensation deductions are taken, written assurances that the deductions will be not less than 5 percent and not more than 20 percent of gross wages and that all deductions will not total more than 80 percent of gross wages.

6. Voluntary participation. Written assurances that inmate participation is voluntary.

7. Consultation with organized labor. Written proof of consultation with organized labor prior to program startup. 8. Consultation with local private industry. Written proof of consultation with local private industry prior to program startup. 9. National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Written proof of compliance with NEPA requirements prior to program startup. (emphasis mine, source BJA PIECP program overview).

In the instant case, most of the above mandatory regulations are being ignored – entirely. Prevailing wages paid by most in the steel fabrication industry in Las Vegas are in excess of $17.00 per hour.  The inmates manufacturing components for Alpine are paid less than half that scale at minimum wage or less. By having access to and using inmate labor provided by Nevada’s Silver State Industries (SSI), Alpine Steel, is able to underbid competitors for structural steel construction projects.  This company is just one of several businesses in Nevada (and 150 others nationwide) enjoying increased benefits and profits derived from inmate labor.  Other Nevada companies enjoying similar access to inmate labor include; Vinyl Products, Inc., (vinyl waterbeds), Thomson Equipment Company (Silver Line Industries trailer manufacture and remanufacturing) and Jacobs Trading Company (repackaging). Alpine Steel is currently manufacturing and installing prison made structural steel components at three locations in Las Vegas; the SkyVue (Ferris Wheel developed by Howard Bulloch), Staluppi Automotive Group’s Planet Mazda and Wet ‘n’ Wild Las Vegas (financed by Andre Agassi; his wife, Steffi Graf; Dr. Steven and Karen Thomas, members of the Thomas family of Thomas & Mack Center fame; and Roger and Scott Bulloch, of SPB Capital Partners).  Companies competing with Alpine Steel for these contracts, were totally unaware they were competing against a company with such a distinct and hidden advantage. While the Staluppi and water park projects are actively being constructed, the Sky Vue job appears to be abandoned, though developer Howard Bulloch assures the absence of activity is due to plan revisions – and not a lack of funding.

 SkyVue pic   wet n wild   Planet Mazda pic

Typically owners, investors and general contractors of projects such as the Mazda dealership and Wet ‘n’ Wild are not informed of manufacturers of materials used by sub-contractors working on such large jobs.  It is thus highly unlikely that Agassi, Graf, the Thomas’, John R.Staluppi, Jr. or GC’s such as Johnson Carlier are aware that through Alpine Steel, their facilities are being built using products made by state prisoners earning minimum wage or less – and much of that taken back to pay for the cost of their incarceration. This cannot be said of the family Bulloch.  Apparently none of the Bulloch brothers have any objections to making or saving huge sums of money by using construction materials manufactured by prisoners.  No it appears jobs involving structural steel components involving the Bulloch’s as investors or developers are steered to brother Randy and his company (which has been using inmate labor since 2005). Some might think there was some manipulation of bids going on when the brother of project developers seemed to be awarded bids on each of those projects. However, no need to rig bids when: your labor costs are 30-50% below the costs of your competitors and the state advances you a credit line exceeding $400,000; you are allowed to default on even the meager wages owed to the inmates ($78,000); you fail to pay $668,000+ owed in payroll taxes to the IRS, and; you refuse to pay your workers compensation insurance premiums to Explorer Insurance ($84,000+) or your suppliers (F&M Steel, Utah – $15,000 and Pierce Aluminum Co, $12,500) for raw materials used in construction projects. The end result is more work for inmates, fewer jobs for workers in Nevada with similar skills, reduced sales to competing private companies and depressed wages for the industry as a whole – with increased profits for Alpine Steel’s owner.  Mr. Cox, Director of NDOC and the Deputy Director of Silver State Industries are of the belief that if 20 or so Nevada workers are denied employment due to inmate labor, that’s an “insignificant” impact upon local employment.  Maybe they and members of the Nevada Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee on Industrial Programs should ask potential workers if losing a job to prison labor is insignificant. Unfortunately this is not an isolated incident. The transfer of jobs to prisoners is something that has been happening all across the country for more than a decade: private companies folding operations due to competition from prison industry operations that are making the same or similar products or services. Union and non-union workers laid off or terminated due to lost sales or unfavorable market swings caused by prison industry operations: Lufkin Industries, Trailer Division: http://lufkindailynews.com/news/article_e0f43731-71c0-5933-803d-9da6f9ae351e.html Cañon City, Co.: http://www.minyanville.com/mvpremium/2011/05/25/is-whole-foods-prison-tilapia/: Pensacola Naval Air Station in Pensacola, FL: http://www.goiam.org/index.php/imail/latest/10489-workers-pay-the-price-for-prison-labor American Apparel and Tennier Industries in AL. and MS.: http://www.businessinsider.com/corporate-prison-labor-is-forcing-small-businesses-to-close-factories-2012-9 South Carolina: http://www.fitsnews.com/2012/06/28/inmate-labor-scandal-could-spread/

PRIDE Print Shop Calhoun CI

In mid 2004 while involved on a prison reform project, I received letters from inmates working in the PRIDE industry where I had briefly been years before. They were posing questions about PRIDE’s PIE program. Prisoners were manufacturing goods for the private sector under this program and wanted to know what the rules were. They also wanted to know if their work was legal and if it affected jobs on the outside. These were good questions and I began to research this PIE program and an entire story of unseen and until then, unknown exploitation was exposed.  It all began with the discovery of 18 USC 1761(c), the Prison Industries Enhancement Certification Program (PIECP). I documented how: PIECP was being used to allow prison industries to partner with private companies, providing access to inmate labor; how private sector companies were urged to close operations and re-open them behind prison fences, using inmates in place of American workers; the huge sums of money being made off prison labor; laws written by corporations and passed by lawmakers they contribute to allowing the exploitation of prisoners; government regulations ignored in the pursuit of profits; entire companies partnered with prison industries under PIECP were “seized” by prison operators along with their proprietary technologies and all equipment taken and used to increase profits to state prison operations and; how taxpayers were paying for much of this without even knowing it. Huge complex corporations had been formed to take advantage of cheap prison labor. One – and possibly more – of these corporations, U.S. Technologies, Inc., bought up other companies through their wholly owned subsidiary, Labor-to-Industry, Inc., closing private sector operations and moving production operations into prison industries nationwide. Below are excerpts from the SEC filings of UST:

“U.S. Technologies Inc. (the “Company”), is engaged directly and indirectly through its wholly owned subsidiary, Labor-to-Industry Inc. (“LTI”), in the operation of industrial facilities located within both private and state prisons, which are staffed principally with inmate labor. These prison-based operations are conducted under the guidelines of the 1979 Prison Industry Enhancement (PIE) program. “The Company is an “outsourcing company” soliciting manufacturing, assembly, repair, kitting and fulfillment services from Fortune 1000 and other select businesses. The Company performs its services utilizing prison labor under the Prison Industry Enhancement Program (“PIE”). Congress created the PIE program in 1979 to encourage states and local units of government to establish employment opportunities for prisoners that approximate private sector work opportunities. The program is designed to place inmates in a realistic working environment, pay them the local prevailing wage for similar work, and enable them to acquire marketable skills to increase their potential for successful rehabilitation and meaningful employment upon release…”

Today more than a dozen years after UST began to exploit prison labor for corporate profit, Nevada finds itself in the grip of a controversy involving the use of prisoners as a cheap labor force made available to “select businesses.” As shown above, Nevada’s private manufacturers are simply the latest victims in this ongoing – and relatively hidden – program taking jobs from neighborhoods and putting them behind bars. This private organization representing all prison industries and the vendors, suppliers and corporate partners using inmate labor, now has responsibility for ensuring compliance with all applicable laws pertaining to prison industry programs. In effect this is the proverbial “fox guarding the henhouse” scenario where program operators are allowed to determine if they are in compliance with government regulations – and their assurances of compliance are accepted without further review by the BJA. This oversight organization has an influential “inside man” in Silver State Industries in a position of power, influence and the ability to allow Randy Bulloch’s company to operate freely.  He is also personally responsible for the unauthorized half-million dollar “line of credit” advanced by the state to Bulloch – and for falsely assuring the federal government that Silver State Industries is in full compliance with federal regulations.  At the core of the current prison labor issues in Nevada this same individual, previously involved in a PRIDE prison industry corruption scandal is once more embroiled in the controversy involving the use of inmate labor. In the following segment we’ll introduce this individual, the organization he belongs to and explain the prison industry PIE Program and how it is being used to remove jobs from American workers.

 

NDOC & Silver State Industries – Meet the Exploiters – Expose on Prison Labor in Nevada Pt. II

Second in a Three Part Expose on Prison Labor in Nevada Displacing Workers

By Bob Sloan – Prison Industry Consultant

SSI GarmentWorking on the “Chain-Gang” was how prisoners were punished for their crimes in days gone by – and people who had been victims of crime were happy.

Then we became “civilized” as a society and changed laws, regulations and opinions that eliminated these hard forms of punishment and degradation.  Instead of harsh working conditions we made sentences longer, believing that to be more humane.  Parole was abolished; possession of a “joint” was enough for a mandatory five years in prison.

Problem was, all this incarceration was costing taxpayers ever more in corrections costs.  Lawmakers sought ways to reduce the ever-increasing expense of incarceration.

An idea was born: create prison industries where prisoners could be put to work to “earn their keep” and reduce the incarceration costs borne by taxpayers.  Soon another idea was floated, let private manufacturers gain access to the prison run factories and further reduce the expense of housing, feeding and providing medical care to prisoners.  Inmates can be taught work ethics, products made by them will cost us less and recidivism will be reduced…and once again the people were happy.

Problem is, this program has created more opportunity for crime and exploitation – of the prisoners themselves. Instead of prison populations shrinking, they grew.  This growth was due to more laws, stiffer sentences, the war on drugs and increasing penalties.  Alongside that population the prison industries grew even faster with more inmates came more job positions. More →