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US Prisons Turn To Call Center Jobs For Inmates, Earn Millions In Labor Costs

Prison Call Center

Many customers are likely not aware that their phone calls to various private and public company’s are being answered by inmates. In fact the programs have been so successful that prisons have all of a sudden been turned into cash centers, earning millions of dollars per year in revenue while caring for inmates.

One such program in New York has prisoners from the Greene Correctional Institution or the Bedford Hills prison for women answer calls for the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). That program, staffed by a long-running federal program called Unicor is just one example of the programs reach.

In Arizona the state prison system has partnered with a a company that provides marketing services for big name companies including Microsoft and Hitachi.

When all is said and done the programs work and they earn money rather than waste millions in tax-payer contributions, in fact Unicor made $10 million in the last six months of its fiscal 2011 year. Money from Unicor always goes back into the program and in the process gives convicted criminals the chance to learn a new skill they can use to find a job with when they are released.

While some concerns may exist over customer privacy most programs that rely on private information are highly guarded in terms of securing user information. For example a credit card company utilizing inmates may not allow pens, paper and other recording instruments to be placed at a workers station, while systems are used to blank out customer information after an order has been place or an account has been closed.

Do you believe more programs like Unicor should be instituted to help prisoners earn back some of the millions in operating expenses they cost on a yearly basis?

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55 Responses to “US Prisons Turn To Call Center Jobs For Inmates, Earn Millions In Labor Costs”

  1. Wayne C. Fox

    This is nothing new. Arizona has been doing this for years. I have mixed emotions about this because it takes away jobs from the general public at a time when they are desperately needed.

  2. Ross W. Emerton

    This is not about giving back. Prisons are being run by "for profit" corporations & this just provides cheap (slave?) labor for them to have another renevue stream. The incentive to incarcerate more will come when the demand goes up. (Kind of like police writing more tickets when the local revenue needs a lift). This is a truly bad idea.

  3. Michelle Cirocco

    In these situations the prisoners are typically compensated state or federal minimum wage with a portion of the compensation going to pay for their "room & board" and restitution. This helps offset the cost of incarceration that is passed on to taxpayers, while providing the inmates with a "savings" account and viable job skills that can facilitate a much more successful transistion back into society and minimize recidivism. Public and private sectors benefit, as well as the individuals and their families.

  4. Leigh Blauvelt

    Ross- "slaves" did not have a choice, inmates do. Im thinking the pros on this one outweighs the negatives….

  5. Leigh Blauvelt

    This one I think the good outweighs the bad- I'm not researching this one – But If you Give Inmates a chance to earn money, obtain customer service skills, be active in their rehab and the States do not absorb the high cost of housing a inmate thuis keeping taxes down I could see how this could outweigh the negatives esp if the inmates have the right to decline.

  6. Faith Wardlaw

    Mr Ross u are right on point with your analysis and comment. This is absurd and an injustice to the US Constitution. We can see from this project alone how the prison system is being built to make money not to keep us safe. How is ok to allow criminals to handle our daily affairs? It's only ok to allow slave labor if someone commits a crime Bec they now pay for their own food in prison. What about the millions of Americans who work everyday and can't feed their families? Imprisoned or free we are all still slaves to Americas system

  7. Gabriele Konig

    Leigh Blauvelt if it wasn't so profitable I don't think the USA would have the largest prison population on earth. The taxpayers pay to house and feed the prisoners and the companies get slave labor. Of course for good measure they but some of it back and make it seem all so noble and fair and for the good of the country.

  8. Kiril Sankiyski

    We are all slaves and the prison is called Earth. You have owners! What do you know about choice in prison? What choice do you have except living for money? I'll tell you! The only choice you have is to die! Some prisoners don't even get that choice when they are put on "suicide watch" in the hole.

  9. Lorie Poulson

    If the prison system can pay for itself then that's one thing but to keep funneling taxpayer dollars into the prison system at the same time is simply double dipping! They're not only taking jobs from tax paying American citizens, they're asking you to like it. We are essentially double funding the prison system. Talk about having your cake and eat it too! The big picture is staggeringly fraught with danger signs. We have people starving and losing everything they've worked for all their lives and now we're going to beat them too, while their down? The poor and the soon to be extinct middle class will be footing the bill in double time! Step to the beat of the drum! I'm scared, are you? If not, you should be!

  10. Roni Minter

    First of all the article is wrong…the women have the DMV program at Bayview Correctional and the men at Fiskill Correctional both in New York. Second the most anyone makes for these 8 hour MANDATORY programs is 28 cents an hour. This is slave labor. And you can’t put this on a resume when you come home. They make millions off of Incarcerated men and women…not just over the phone, but in industry work as well. Once a person is imprisoned for a crime they are enslaved while during the time. No judge states that at sentencing.

  11. Roni Minter

    Faith I can tell you from first hand experience that I DID NOT WANT TO WORK ON THE PHONE AT ALL. So you can get off of that. Second if you call 28 cents an hour money then I really don't know what to say to you.

  12. Yona Aniwodi DanielAnzelmo

    Please consider the impacts on everyone else in the community trying to earn a living at call centers, when slaves, an overwhelming number imprisoned SOLELY for debts and nothing else, earn a mere 28 cents per hour, and are impressed into work against their will. The sheer brilliant ignorance of the Blauvelt posts is truly blinding to any human being that has a heart, much less a brain. Inmates do not have a choice, they are not voluntarily lodging at a motel 6, nor are the majority imprisoned for violent or non-violent crimes. If you won the bank, you can steal everyone's savings, and get a promotion. if you owe the bank, you get imprisoned SOLELY for debt (in GROSS violation of the Constitution, much less any standard of decency), and whipped into slaving away for pennies on the hour, helping to lay off and close down what few jobs are left for the rest of us to scramble for. ᏲᏅ ᎠᏂᏬᏗ ᏓᏆᏙᎠ.

  13. Matthew Stephen Rogers

    Indeed, so sick of these state capitalists pretending like they are following the values of a market rather than using the coercive force of the state to gain slave labor for crony connected corporations, giving the crony corporations a non market based state slave labor pricing advantage at the expense of basic human rights. Ugh it seems like these corny a-holes are getting their ideas from China.

  14. Matthew Stephen Rogers

    Yes hurray for crony capitalism that enslaves prisoners many of whom are there for victimless drug crimes, takes jobs away from non imprisoned people, drives wages down, and is a state subsidy ie welfare/crony/state capitalism to politically connectedccorporations and thus distorts free markets.


  15. Matthew Stephen Rogers

    Choice, yes alcohol good, pot bad, slave labor good, market determining labor price bad, you'd do great in a repressive state like China Leigh, who needs human rights when you can invent some arbitrary laws, imprison millions, and then use those people as a source of in essence free labor as the paltry wages are adsorbed by the prison's company store, which is NOT a free market.

    Any neo-con pushing this who claims to believe in free markets does not understand what real free markets are, this is a state subside to the worst most abusive corporations and more akin to quite literal fascism than a market.

  16. Marshall Getto

    The prison industrial complex, especially with the advent of for-profit prisons, is extremely disturbing. Oh, and New York: Don't you have some unemployed citizens who could use those DMV call center jobs?

  17. Elle de Valois

    Yes, I agree this is inhumane treatment! Having people on the phones for 8 hours a day while paying them minimal money to do it is just cruel to criminals! I think we should bring back chain gangs where they dig ditches in the sun for twelve to sixteen hours a day with a guard standing over them, bullwhip in hand for no pay whatsoever! That's way more humane!

  18. Marshall Getto

    I hear what you're saying, Leigh, and its one thing when they become a trustee or go to a minimum security work farm, but to put them into something like call center jobs when we still have real unemployment in this country somewhere between 15% – 20% is just ludicrous. Plus, paying these folks a quarter an hour will result in seriously depressed wages for the other folks in those same industries. It will be like competing with worse than Chinese workers' average pay. Probably not the best way to go about maintaining what little bit of quality of life we still have in this country. Just my two cents.

  19. Matthew Stephen Rogers

    How about not dehumanizing people at and not distorting markets with state subsidized slave labor, or is that too much for your pea brain to fathom? Your argument is like hurray the crooks only broke in an took the t.v. but not the jewels!


  20. Elle de Valois

    Oh bite me! These are people in prison. These are people that have been convicted of crimes and have essentially given away their right to walk amongst the rest of us by breaking the law. Listen, I work in a call center for a wage that doesn't even keep my head above water for 8 hours a day…so much so that I am working a second job just so I can put food on the table. Working in a call center is not hard labor, I can tell you that though. I paid a huge amount of money for a good degree from college and can't even get a job in my field. I am an intelligent person and if the state is saving money by employing these people, who really have nothing else to do with their time in prison, other than answer calls for a few hours to save me a bit of tax money, then great!

  21. Jason Syska

    I'm a little upset that inmates are calling people and have access to other peoples phone numbers and personal information…

  22. Elle de Valois

    P.S. If you want to look at the dehumanizing and slave labor aspect, look no further than me! I am working in a call center for minimum wage and they aren't ever going to pay me more money than I am making right now. With the cost of living, I can't even afford my bills and have to have a second job just so I can have a roof over my head and food in my mouth. I am chained to my desk for eight hours a day by a headset and ha ha ha get this, I applied for that job because there wasn't anything else available in my area at the time….still aren't many jobs in this area! So what about me? I guess I'm slave labor too and here is the catch, if I lose my job, I am not even guaranteed a roof over my head or food to eat! PLUS, I PAY TAXES to keep these people in jail and fed but I may not have enough to do so for myself?!

  23. Matthew Stephen Rogers

    Yeah and state subsidized prison labor is distorting the market and driving down YOUR wages idiot! Your thirst for primitive vengeance is overpowering your rational self interest as a call center worker. It all good until YOUR call center job is outsourced to a slave of the state making 28 cents an hour eh? Although I must say mindless frothing idiots like you deserve to be unemployed.

  24. Elle de Valois

    If anything, yes, that should be the most disturbing part of this article.

  25. Elle de Valois

    No, it's not. If you look at the percentage of people in prisons working call center jobs while in prison, it is vastly lower than other factors that are driving this market and the economy down so why don't YOU do a little more research on your end, yes? What vengeance am I looking for? I'm just stating facts and why I don't see this as a problem to put people in prisons to work? Are you going to froth and spew INHUMANITY over the fact that people in prisons have jobs at all like making license plates or training horses or service dogs? Or are these just the jobs you don't care about and aren't willing to do so it's okay? Also, how is it outsourcing to give jobs that frankly, no one likes to do, to people who have nothing else to do with their time incarcerated (in our own country mind you)? Also, I can guarantee you, my IQ level is much higher than yours as I don't have to lower myself to name calling to try to get my point across or incite anger.

  26. Matthew Stephen Rogers

    Welcome to 28 cents on hour in your own call center work due to state subsidized slavery leading to a conclusion by your employer that your own own wage slavery is overpaid. Short sighted in your thirst for eye for an eye vengeance much? What's sad is you probably consider yourself to be a Christian and advocate of free markets yet radically misunderstand both.

  27. Elle de Valois

    Or to look at this another way, are you saying that prisoners should be paid the same wages or higher as those jobs on the outside to drive the economy upwards and have people in prison as wealthy or if not wealthier than you on the outside? Because I'm pretty sure you'd be more outraged by the fact that prisoners in this country probably make a better wage than you do at your regular, non-penitentiary job on the outside.

  28. Matthew Stephen Rogers

    I am saying if we are going to have prisons that they ought not be a source of crony capitalist slave labor that drives down wages for people on the outside. Of course I am quite certain this level of economics is above your head.

  29. Elle de Valois

    Where did you pluck religion from? This has nothing to do with it. Also, I'm one hundred percent certain that prison jobs have absolutely nothing to do with why the call center I work for, pays me crap for wages. I'm pretty sure that it is because there is such an overflow of people just like me (college degree, reasonably intelligent) eager for my spot that will put up with being paid an even worse wage just to have a job. If we collectively put our foot down about how much executives are going to pay the collective us versus what they pay themselves every year, maybe we'd have better wages.

  30. Elle de Valois

    Again, check your facts. Just how many prisons in the US are doing this? Also, read this part "When all is said and done the programs work and they earn money rather than waste millions in tax-payer contributions, in fact Unicor made $10 million in the last six months of its fiscal 2011 year. Money from Unicor always goes back into the program and in the process gives convicted criminals the chance to learn a new skill they can use to find a job with when they are released."

  31. Elle de Valois

    What is so bad about a federally funded institution, like our prison system, putting money they generate back into their federally funded system so that we don't have to pay so much in taxes?

  32. Roni Minter

    First of all most people in prison are there because they were on drugs and they got picked up with little to no drugs in their possession and they get 3 to 5 years….but a white female who has ahd multiple DWIs kills two people and puts one in a wheel chair for life and she gets 1 year. Maybe before you past such harsh judgement you should educate your self on the New Jim Crow…then when you realize that there arent as many hardened criminals incarcerated you might have a heart and realize that people are being imprisoned so that the industry of prisons can thrive. and let me say this once again that the call centers are MANDATORY…..they don't want to call our be called. they want to go home and really those positions are given to men and women that should have been given an alternative to incarceration.

  33. Nicholas Blasgen

    As someone who's been though this, Unicor is so much better than anything else. You get paid about $150 per month compared to $5 per month working in the kitchen or CMS. These are also jobs you apply for. They are highly demanded jobs and the wait list is normally in excess of 2 years. It's not slave labor. It gives you a way to be productive and communicate with other people (a huge plus).

  34. Doug Voluntaryist

    Nicholas, yes it is slave labor. Because the inmates are captured by the government for their "crime against the state." If I capture you and lock you in a cage, then tell you that you can come sweep my floors and I will pay you, or you can stay in your cage, how is that not slavery?

    By the way, no one is saying it isn't better than staying in a cage, but don't throw out a red herring. Learning begins when we call things by their proper names.

  35. Richard M Peck

    I think they should do more for the unemployed workers instead of helping those that are serving time for there mistakes. They are always coming up with new ways to put the average person out of work. What is the success rate of the people not returning to prison under this program.

  36. Audrey Stromberg

    Matthew Stephen Rogers – dehumanizing? Really? You have obviously never worked at a job where you got sweat on your balls. Sitting at a desk instead of stealing to support your drug habit is not dehumanizing. The only thing I have a problem with is the disbursement of the profits. It should all go to support the prison itself- lights, guard salaries, serviellence equipment, etc.

  37. Gary Brown

    arkansas dept of corrections inmate search or his babys mother chelcy walles

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