The Hidden History of ALEC and Prison Labor
Mike Elk and Bob Sloan
Friday 5 August 2011
This started to change in 1993, when Texas State Representative and ALEC member Ray Allencrafted the Texas Prison Industries Act, which aimed to expand the PIE program. After it passed
in Texas, Allen advocated that it be duplicated across the country. In 1995, ALEC’s Prison
Industries Act was born.
This Prison Industries Act as printed in ALEC’s 1995 state legislation sourcebook, “prov
ides forthe employment of inmate labor in state correctional institutions and in the private manufacturing
of certain products under specific conditions.” These conditions, defined by the PIE program, aresupposed to include requirements that “inmates must be paid at the prevailing wage rate” andthat the “any room and board deductions…are reasonable and are used to defray the costs of inmate incarceration.” (Some states charge prisoners for room and board, ostensibly to offset the
cost of prisons for taxpayers. In Florida, for example, prisoners are paid minimum wage for PIE-certified labor, but 40 percent is taken out of their accounts for this purpose.)
The Prison Industries Act sought to change this, inventing the “private sector prison industry
ion account,” to absorb such deductions, and stipulating that the money should be used to,among other things: “construct work facilities, recruit corporations to participate as private sector
industries programs, and pay costs of the authority and department in implementing [these
programs].” Thus, money that was taken from inmate wages to offset the costs of incarceration
would increasingly go to expanding prison industries. In 2000, Florida passed a law that mirroredthe Prison Industries Act and created the Prison Industries Trust Fund, its own version of theprivate sector prison industry expansion account, deliberately designed to help expand prisonlabor for private industries.The Prison Industries Act was also written to exploit a critical PIE loophole that seemed tosuggest that its rules did not apply to prisoner-made goods that were not shipped across statelines. It allowed a third-party company to set up a local address in a state that makes prisongoods, buy goods from a prison factory, sell those products locally or surreptitiously ship themacross state borders. It helped that by 1995 oversight of the PIE program had been effectively
squashed, transferred from the Department of Justice’s
to be represented by Allen’s lobbying firm, Service House, Inc. In 2003, Allen became the
TexasHouse Chairman of the Corrections Committee and began peddling the Prison Industries Act andother legislation beneficial to CCA and Geo Group, like the Private Correctional Facilities Act.
Soon thereafter he became Chairman of ALEC’s Criminal Justice (now Public Safety and
Elections) Task Force. He resigned from the state legislature in 2006 while under investigationfor his unethical lobbying practices. He was hired soon after as a lobbyist for Geo Group.
Today’s chair of ALEC’s Public Safety and Elections Task force is state Representative Jerry
Madden of Texas, where the Prison Industries Act originated eighteen years ago. According to a2010 report from NCIA, as of last summer there were "thirty jurisdictions with active [PIE]operations." These included such states as Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida,Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, andtwelve more. Four more states are now looking to get involved as well; Kentucky, Michigan and