Prison Labor at the Port of Olympia

[Follow up to The Port of Olympia Uses Prison Labor]


A spokesperson for the Port of Olympia responded today to my inquiry on the 14th.

Here’s the response:

Mr. Richards,
A Port Commissioner referred your August 14 email to me for response. Thank you for your questions regarding the Port’s use of Department of Corrections (DOC) Community Work Program.

The Port of Olympia was approached by DOC and invited to participate in their Community Work Program, which helps prepare individuals for employment prior to their release.

Please see the Department of Corrections response to your question.

The Washington Department of Corrections’ statutory duty as well as its own stated mission is to ensure public safety. The prescribed manner by which the department should achieve its public safety mission is by positively impacting those individuals within its custody by stressing personal responsibility and accountability. The community work program, as set out by state law in RCW 72.09.100, provides that incarcerated individuals can provide community services “to public agencies, persons who are poor or infirm, or to nonprofit organizations.” This work allows incarcerated individuals to adopt a work ethic and in an effort that benefits both themselves and the community.

The current work accomplished by those who have been convicted and sentenced to the department’s custody by a court of law provides the opportunity “to grow and expand their skills and abilities so as to fulfill their role in the community,” as prescribed by RCW 72.09.010. Currently, the work accomplished at the Port of Olympia airfield includes landscaping work and protective grounds work that avoids risks to the property, which if not accomplished could yield higher costs for taxpayers in the long run. During calendar year 2016, the work achieved by the community work crew amounted to approximately 1200 hours of service. This is vocational work that trains the men for potential skilled labor and employment post-release.

It should also be noted that, by state statute RCW 72.09.010, the Washington Department of Corrections should work to avoid idleness among the incarcerated population as idleness is “wasteful and destructive to both the community and the individual.” Idleness is also a known factor that affects facility operations. By working toward reducing idleness through the provision of meaningful work, the agency and community partners are contributing toward increased facility safety for both correctional officers and the inmate population.

Thank you.

My question to them was, “Does the Port use prison labor?”

This is a very long way for them to answer: Yes.

There are no data to support any of the assertions made by the DOC in this response. We don’t see lower recidivism rates among prisoners who participate in this program. No proof that they’re being prepared for life outside of prison, or that they’re developing skills, or that they get jobs when they get out. Zero. It’s just taking advantage of them for public benefit.

I urge you to reach out to the Port and ask them to end this practice. It’s exploitation, and it’s conducted at a huge cost to taxpayers while the profits are being reaped privately.


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