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Local prisons are real economic players, UC finds

By David Scharfenberg, Daily Planet Staff
Saturday May 04, 2002

Forget about license plates.  

According to a UC Berkeley study released this week, mattresses, wood products and prunes are some of the top-grossing items produced in Bay Area state prisons. 

The study, which draws on date from fiscal year 1997-1998, found that San Quentin State Prison and California State Prison Solano sold $10.4 million in goods produced by inmates.  

The Bay Area facilities also spent $7.5 million locally on raw materials, operating costs and salaries, and generated some 200 jobs at the prisons and in local industry, according to the study. 

The Bay Area figures are part of a larger study conducted by UC Berkeley economist George Goldman for the California Prison Industry Authority, analyzing the economic impact of prison work statewide.  

Across California, the study found, state prisons sold $151 million in goods in 1997-1998 and generated a ripple effect of $230 million in sales by local industry. 

“It’s not a major, major economic impact on the state,” said Goldman, referring to the $151 million in direct sales by the prisons. “But it does produce spinoff effects.” 

Under state law, the Prison Industry Authority may only sell its products and services to government agencies. The California Youth and Adult Correctional Agency is the authority’s largest customer, accounting for over half of sales. 

Inmates earn between 30 and 95 cents per hour for their work, with up to 20 percent deducted for court-ordered fines. 

Frank Losco, a PIA spokesman, said the work enables inmates to make a contribution to the state economy and helps reduce prison violence by keeping inmates occupied. 

Goldman said PIA production has the added benefit of keeping certain types of manufacturing in the state. 

“This is particularly true for metal, wood and paper products, which would likely come from the Midwest states if the PIA were not manufacturing them here,” he said. 

According to the study, the San Joaquin Valley region felt the greatest impact of prison industry in 1997-1998, with $49.5 million in sales and 812 jobs in the local economy. 


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