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New York's prisoners go to work - or else.

Inmates in New York prisons have a strong incentive to participate in the state's mandatory work program. If they don't, they are locked in their cells 23 hours a day and discredited when they come up for parole.

Called one of the toughest in the nation, the work policy was put in place last year to counter the perception that inmates have an easy life. Working also prepares prisoners for jobs after they are released and helps pay for incarceration--a cost estimated at $25,000 a year per inmate.

The work program is part of a broader policy of classifying all inmates according to their background, education and risk and then assigning them to the programs most likely to keep them from committing future crimes.

Inmates who read below the fifth-grade level attend classes all day. Those who can read at levels between the fifth and eight grade go to classes half a day and attend vocational training programs suitable to their aptitude the other half day. Once they have completed eight-grade courses, they are required to work all day. Inmates who want to work on a GED or take college classes may do so, but in the evening or on weekends.

Inmates can no longer dabble in one vocational program after another. Under the new policy, they must achieve basic academic skills, participate in suitable training and then work full time in that field.

Prison work today is more than making license plates. In New York, inmates in 15 prisons produce a complete line of office furniture, metal cabinets and cleaning supplies for state and local government agencies. They also remodel government offices.

Inmates who participate successfully in education and work programs can acquire an "earned eligibility certificate" that counts in their favor when they are being considered for parole. A spokesman for the Division of Parole said that inmates appearing at a parole hearing without a certificate have only a 33 percent chance of being released, while those with certificates have an 80 percent chance of parole.

Inmates who refuse to work are locked in their cells except for one hour a day of exercise, and they do not earn the certificate of eligibility. Lesser penalties are imposed for refusing to participate in education or vocational training.

About 28,000 of New York's 58,000 inmates are working, while about 1,000 are locked up for refusing to participate. Just over 3,000 are unemployed because no jobs are available. The rest are occupied in education and other programs, are hospitalized or are restricted for security or other reasons.

A report issued recently by the Federal Bureau of Prisons validates the value of New York's policy. BOP found that federal prisoners involved in work programs are less likely to commit a crime or a technical violation of their parole after the first year of their release and are less likely to commit an infraction while still in prison. After their release, people who had worked in prison were employed for more hours than those in a control group who had not worked in prison, and they were less likely than the controls to quit their job.
COPYRIGHT 1992 National Conference of State Legislatures
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:On First Reading; prison inmates
Publication:State Legislatures
Date:Jul 1, 1992
Words:528
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