Prisoner job training to be locked up?

Budget crisis leaves program in doubt
By: Don Chaddock Telegraph Managing Editor
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One victim of the state budget crisis could be a prisoner job-training program instituted by Gov. Jerry Brown when he was in office nearly 30 years ago. The California Prison Industry Authority, signed into law by Brown in 1982, uses inmates to create goods sold to other government agencies. Most know of the license plate program, but fewer are aware of the partnership the organization formed with trade unions to certify inmates so they could be employable when released. The program receives no state funding, but relies on the state to purchase goods and services provided by the inmates. John Maloney, production manager at the group’s training and production facility in Folsom, said his crews were hard at work constructing modular buildings when something changed. “I haven’t built a modular in four months,” Maloney said. “It just came to a screeching halt.” Working with the unions, inmates are trained in carpentry, welding and other trades, allowing them to find gainful employment in the private sector when they get out of prison. The unions certify the inmates when they complete the program. “We had two shifts working seven days a week (at our peak),” Maloney said. “When it was going full, we had 14 modular units going and one out on the side. It was $25 million, 13 buildings, over 100,000 square feet in about 18 months. They were fully equipped, turn-key buildings.” Now the inmates enrolled in the program are being used to build miniature “houses,” only to tear them down once completed. Other inmates are sent to State Parks or Cal-Expo for maintenance work to keep them busy, said Maloney. According to spokesman Eric Reslock, the integrated-training program — combining inmates and union officials — is unique. “Our modular business is down to where it’s almost inactive,” Reslock said. “It’s primarily due to disruptions in the budget process and preferences by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to either not build or seek other alternatives.” Since the prison system is their primary customer, particularly for their secure modular buildings, work halted when the orders dried up. “That is a huge disappointment,” Reslock said. “We have to be self sufficient so we have to make ends meet.” He said that has meant transitioning from a production facility to being more service oriented. “Doing work for State Parks and Cal Expo is something we have done before,” he said. “There is a definite need for deferred maintenance.” The Prison Industry Authority operates 60 factories statewide that make everything from ground coffee and cookies to license plates and furniture. “We are money driven and performance driven and we have to put out a quality product on time,” Maloney said. “To me, it’s state helping state. I sent an electrician up there to redo wiring and install phones up at Granite Bay (at Beals Point).” Still under construction is a telemedicine unit — a modular building that allows an off-site doctor to examine patients housed in the prison. The high-tech unit has to meet very rigid security standards, according to Maloney. They are also building an emergency response portable structure for the state. The modulars range from standard minimum security all the way up to maximum security, meaning they are essentially bulletproof, Maloney said. According to Reslock, the Prison Industry Authority’s hands are tied when it comes to generating revenue. “We can only sell to government entities,” he said. “The statute stipulates we can’t sell to private enterprise.” Maloney said the modulars have to be built to code, including earthquake and flood standards. “We have three basic models,” he said. “These buildings change dramatically once they go inside the (prison’s) walls. People don’t realize what goes into the these buildings.” Calls to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation seeking comment were not returned as of press time.