Opinion: Prison Industry Authority saves money while rehabilitating inmates

The California Chamber of Commerce is making another of its periodic attempts to kill the state’s most effective job-training program for prison inmates.

The target is the California Prison Industry Authority (CALPIA) which provides productive work assignments for some 6,800 inmates at 23 prisons. Those inmates develop job skills as they work in more than 60 service, manufacturing and agricultural industries.

Customers for those industries are governments who buy inmate-produced products such as clothing, furniture and modular buildings.

And that’s the problem, in the chamber’s view. They want private brokers to provide those products and services.


The Chamber’s attack on CALPIA comes from legislation (AB 1771) that would make CALPIA contracts available to small businesses that make their living off government contracts.


The chamber ignores the fact that if this measure is adopted, California businesses could lose millions of dollars annually in sales of raw materials to CALPIA. Raw materials for inmate-made boots and office furniture come from California companies. If the business goes to private vendors, it’s a safe bet that significant amounts of raw materials and finished products will be purchased from China and out-of-state suppliers.

In fact, most of the private vendors are not manufacturers. They are brokers peddling products made elsewhere.

CALPIA industries are profit-making and those funds are plowed back into operations that employ and train more inmates. CALPIA does not receive money from the state General Fund or other taxpayer-funded subsidies. In the last six years, the number of rehabilitation job slots in CALPIA programs has grown 20% from 5,669 inmates to 6,829. In the same time period, CALPIA reduced the number of civil service employees by 12.5% from 677.5 to 593.

According to a 2008 study by the University of Nevada, if CALPIA activities did not exist in California, economic activity would decline by $238 million, household income would decline by $75.7 million, and 1,138 jobs would be lost statewide.

Other significant benefits from CALPIA programs include:

–Fewer inmates return to prison after learning job skills at CALPIA. The recidivism rate is 25 percent lower than that of the general population.

–If CALPIA did not exist, it would cost the state penal system in excess of $23.8 million to establish comparable vocational or education positions.

–CALPIA’s documented ability to reduce recidivism translates into savings of more than $10 million every year for costs associated with re-incarceration, judiciary and policing, as well as the impact on new victims.

–CALPIA inmates contribute 40 percent of their wages to pay court-ordered restitution and fees. That helps crime victims and reduces judicial costs.

–Idleness in prisons encourages vandalism and violence directed at employees and other prisoners. Work programs reduce idleness. CALPIA inmates know that any disciplinary action taken against them will lead to the loss of their jobs.

–CALPIA inmates have an opportunity to earn industry certification in various skills, which helps them obtain jobs when paroled.

–CALPIA’s Transition to Employment Program assists inmates obtain documents needed for employment and provides transition services that help them find jobs on the outside.

Chamber of Commerce officials should be looking at the bottom line. For CALPIA, the bottom line is a program that provides inmates with job skills and experiences that can help them lead productive lives once they are back in society. CALPIA does that without any cost to taxpayers and in ways that contribute to the California economy.

Want to see more stories like this? Sign up for The Roundup, the free daily newsletter about California politics from the editors of Capitol Weekly. Stay up to date on the news you need to know.

Sign up below, then look for a confirmation email in your inbox.


Support for Capitol Weekly is Provided by: