History, politics, people of Oly WA

Know anything about SJR 8212?

I was embarrassed when I opened up my ballot tonight that I hadn’t heard of SJR 8212, which would open up a larger prison labor program in our state. Here are some links.

Legislative history
Pro and con argument’s in voters pamphlet

It is worth noting that the two Republican lawmakers who wrote the against arguments for the voters pamphlet are from the 4th LD, close by where a company took advantage of prison labor:

In December 1995, the Redmond, Washington company laid off 30 workers earning $7 an hour plus benefits and moved to the Airway Heights Corrections Center near Spokane. There, five free employees supervise some 40 prisoners who earn $6 an hour. Omega Pacific owner Bert Atwater told the Spokane Spokesman Review that he moved to prison because of the rent-free quarters where “the workers are delighted with the pay; [where there are] no workers who don’t come in because of rush hour traffic or sick children at home; [and where] workers…don’t take vacations. Where would these guys go on vacation anyway?” Atwater was also pleased that he doesn’t “have to deal with employee benefits or workers’ compensation.”

Sarahjane46th over at Washblog writes a defense of 8212, but included this quote that argues against it:

“Although we understand the value for incarcerated people to earn more than 42 cents or $1.10 / hour and we acknowledge the benefits of providing work experience for incarcerated people, we see the prison industries as one of the main cogs in the “Perpetual Prisoner Machine” as described in the book by the same name authored by Joel Dyer. The bottom line is that in the long run, this change support[s] the continuation of mass incarceration in this country.”

A few newspaper endorsements in favor of it:
Put inmates to work for their benefit — and ours
Two ballot measures flashy but necessary

The Olympian’s half-hearted endorsement (Inmate labor program needs oversight) makes a great case:

By supporting SJR 8212 voters are trusting that the Department of Corrections will enforce the law to ensure that there is no unfair advantage to companies operating inside prisons. The Supreme Court record showed that 37 of the 58 inmates working for MicroJet were murderers. While some will be released some day, many others will never be released from prison. That shoots a hole in Sen. Hargrove’s argument about rehabilitation.

Nonetheless, with proper oversight from Corrections and assigning appropriate inmates to the tasks, this program can work.

Which is why I’m probably voting against it. The constitution of the state makes it illegal to use prison labor because of its built-in pitfalls. Prisoners by their nature aren’t employees. They can’t quit being prisoners, and they can be treated as slave labor. It’s better to just not open up a loop hole for abuse.

But, I’m willing to listen to anyone who can argue otherwise.


  1. Anonymous

    You think inmate labor is bad. At the university I attend there is a company, Digilent, who uses student labor at the expense of the university, tax payers.

  2. Unknown

    I am more than disturbed by SJR 8212, I am appalled. If folks really want rehabilitation, they ought to start with education, drug and alcohol counseling, therapy, and applicable job training programs. Allowing someone to pound a hammer for 45 cents an hour (comes out to 936 dollars a year if working full time) does nothing but otherwise confirm prisoners place in society- they are better off being criminals. Some legislators have suggested that this money could be saved or used for child support. I don’t know what kind of child support $936 buys, but my guess is not much. Please vote to reject SJR 8212, and I will do the same.

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