Improved Prison Work Programs Will Benefit Correctional Institutions and Inmates

Gao ID: GGD-82-37 June 29, 1982

Federal and state correctional institutions operate institutional work programs and industrial work programs to reduce idleness, to provide inmates with marketable job skills and meaningful work experience, and to reduce correctional costs. GAO reviewed these programs to: (1) determine how well these goals are being achieved in federal prisons; and (2) evaluate federal efforts to help the states improve the operation of their prison work programs.

Institutional work is important for the day-to-day operations of prisons, but the typical institutional job does little to enhance inmate work skills. Many more inmates than necessary are assigned to these tasks, which undermines the goal of reducing idleness and results in shortened work schedules and make-work projects. In contrast, the industry work programs, which provide inmates with work experience more relative to outside employment and which help reduce prison costs, were sometimes short of workers. GAO believes that many workers assigned to institutional tasks could be more appropriately employed in existing prison industries and that the industries could be expanded to absorb an even greater number of inmates. However, before this can happen, several problems must be overcome. The Bureau of Prisons does not have systemwide criteria for determining the number of workers needed to perform institutional tasks. In addition, prison industry supervisory personnel have been limited by an administrative personnel ceiling which arbitrarily restricts the number of inmates that could be employed in the industrial programs. Concerns over competition with private businesses for the federal market also hinder expansion. Finally, the quality of the work experience could be improved. Prison industries tend to place more emphasis on teaching good work habits than on developing job skills.


Our recommendations from this work are listed below with a Contact for more information. Status will change from "In process" to "Open," "Closed - implemented," or "Closed - not implemented" based on our follow up work.

Director: Arnold P. Jones Team: General Accounting Office: General Government Division Phone: (202) 512-7797

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