Examples include candy manufacturer Russell Stover, which operates in Kansas, along with restaurants in Texas, Michigan, Delaware, and Ohio.
Though this may be an economical solution for companies, critics say prison work release programs are exploitative, as prisoners are typically paid less than non-incarcerated workers and are denied benefits and paid time off. A spokesperson for Russell Stover did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Guardian reported that during a waste management industry conference, company leaders suggested using prisoners to fill positions that companies had struggled to find applicants for.
“The talk about immigrant labor, prison labor, it’s all about exploitation, nothing else,” Chuck Stiles, director of the Teamsters solid waste and recycling division, told the Guardian. “There is no driver shortage. There is a huge wage and benefits shortage that these waste companies refuse to give up anything on the bottom line.”
According to Stiles, prison work release programs in the waste industry often subject prisoners to dangerous working conditions and bad weather, without the benefits that non-incarcerated workers receive.
Brandilynn Parks, president of the Kansas Coalition for Sentence and Prison Reform, told the Guardian that work release programs often end up taking jobs from and dropping wages for non-incarcerated workers and don’t result in prisoners being hired after they’re released. Parks told the Guardian that the use of prison labor helps preserve the high incarceration rate in the US, as government contracts with companies require a certain number of people to be incarcerated in order for the state to provide enough prisoners to work.