Date: Tue, 29 Jun 1999 03:22:05 -0700 (PDT)
From: Steve Zeltzer <>
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Precedence: bulk
Subject: [BRC-NEWS] Prisoners ’Hired,’ So Ex-welfare Clients Fired

Prisoners ‘hired,’ so ex-welfare clients fired

By Rhonda Cook, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 19 June 1999 Page A1

Free convict labor means trash sorters are recycled out of a job.

To save money, a struggling South Georgia recycling plant fired workers hired off welfare to sort trash for $5.25 an hour. They were replaced with free convict labor, bypassing a Georgia law that prohibits prisoners’ taking the place of paid employees.

Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor acted as an intermediary between the Georgia Department of Corrections and the Crisp County Solid Waste Management Authority.

Now 36 inmates from the women’s prison in Pulaski County work at the plant eight hours a day, five days a week, sorting recyclables from garbage trucked in from dozens of nearby towns and counties.

Taylor said he did not know the inmates would be taking jobs away from Georgians coming off government assistance.

I find it very disturbing that, at a time when the state and the nation are focused on putting welfare recipients to work, that a political subdivision would lay them off and put prison people in place, said state Rep. Georganna Sinkfield (D-Atlanta), chairman of the House Children and Youth Committee.

Georgia law allows prisoners to work only for state, county or local governments, which would include an authority like the one that owns the recycling facility at Cordele. The plant is operated by a private company.

Generally, when a government operation is privatized, the workers are employees of the company that has the contract. In this case, plant workers’ wages are paid directly by the authority but are employed by the Environmental Technologies Group, a private, profitmaking business.

Asked if the authority paid workers directly in order to get around the legal prohibition against inmates working for the private sector, Chip Wells, board chairman of the Crisp County Solid Waste Management Authority, said, I believe so.

The recycling center opened a year ago. In December the financially strapped facility laid off 50 sorters, including 35 who had taken the jobs to get off welfare, because the waste stream what not what had been predicted. The Department of Human Resources said 10 of the 35 are back on welfare.

My heart goes out to them, Wells said. We hired those people and then we laid them off. But there are still a tremendous number of people we employ. A lot of people fail to realize what we are still doing for the workforce here.

The plan to use convict labor from Pulaski State Prison near Hawkinsville was hatched in February when authority representatives met in Atlanta with the lieutenant governor, Sen. Rooney Bowen (D-Cordele) and prison officials.

It was just another constituent request and I just passed it on to the Department of Corrections, Taylor said.

The authority reimburses the corrections department about $122,000 a year for the guards’ salaries and the expense of transporting the inmates. The prisoners are not paid.

I think those inmates cost about $30,000 a year to house so you certainly can’t say they’re working for free, Wells said.

He said the combination of inmate labor and a paid workforce of 130 to 160 ensures salaried employees will keep their jobs. The free inmate labor helps put the facility a little bit closer to being profitable. Once this facility breaks even . . . I would expect we will not be keeping those inmates, Wells said.

Department of Corrections attorney Bill Amideo said the agency was told the layoffs have nothing to do with four months later acquiring inmate labor. . .. . These are merely work details, like the guys that mow the lawn at the Humane Society or clean up beside the highway.

Environmental Technologies Group of Atlanta is paid a minimum of $93,600 to run the facility.

They really are exploiting the inmates as cheap labor until they get back on their feet, said Tim Mellen of the Prison and Jail Project, an advocate for the rights of the poor and of inmates. The aspect (that) makes it even worse is here are people . . . who needed jobs and their jobs were taken away. What they’re doing is wrong.

Taylor said he didn’t know that the inmates took jobs once held by paid workers, especially people that had just come off welfare rolls, where they received an average monthly check of $240 plus food stamps and Medicaid. I did not know the connection between the two, he said.

It’s real important that those prisoners work, but there’s nothing more important than welfare reform, the lieutenant governor said.

Wells said the private company has complete control over who is hired, fired or promoted at the $54 million integrated waste processing center.

If we can make this authority profitable, Crisp County will enjoy free garbage disposal, Wells said. We have made a great deal of progress. We are much closer to operating at a break-even point.