Federal Prison Industries

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Federal Prison Industries, also known as UNICOR and FPI, is a wholly owned United States government corporation created in 1934 that uses penal labor from the Federal Bureau of Prisons to produce goods and services. FPI is restricted to selling its products and services to federal government agencies, like those products made on behalf of military arms manufacturers to be marked up in cost and sold to the United States military.[1]

Recently private companies gained some access to UNICOR workforce: companies can outsource call centers to UNICOR.[2]


A statute in May 1930 provided for the employment of prisoners,[3] the creation of a corporation for the purpose was authorized by a statute in June 1934,[4] and the Federal Prison Industries was created by executive order in December 1934.[5]


While in the program, inmates are given vocational training. By equipping inmates with a skill set in a vocation, UNICOR aims to reduce recidivism and give former inmates the means to support themselves in post-institutional life.[6]


UNICOR is economically self-sustaining and is scheduled to receive over $2.7 Million in government funding for FY14, which is $51,000 over FY13.[7] In fiscal year 1996, UNICOR had net sales of $459 million.[8] In fiscal year 2008, UNICOR employed 21,836 inmates: 17% of eligible inmates held in federal prisons. Prisoners make between $0.23 and $1.15 per hour. The company generated US$765 million in sales. Of these revenues, 74% went toward the purchase of raw material and equipment; 20% went to staff salaries; 6% went to inmate salaries.[7]

UNICOR has 109 factories in federal prisons, producing about 175 different types of products and services, including clothing and textiles, electronics, fleet management and vehicular components, industrial products, office furniture, recycling activities; and services including data entry and encoding.


Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found. Under US laws and regulations, federal agencies, with the exception of the Department of Defense, are required to purchase products (but not services) offered by UNICOR, unless authorized by UNICOR to solicit bids from the private sector. This "mandatory source clause" has drawn controversy over the years, with allegations that UNICOR is unfairly competing with private businesses.[7] From 2002 to 2004, Congress and the Bush Administration made several efforts to mitigate this competitive advantage held by UNICOR over the private sector. In 2003, UNICOR's board of directors eliminated the mandatory source clause for federal purchases under US$2,500, and mandated itself to approve waivers in all cases where the private sector provides a lower cost.[7]

Under current law, all physically able inmates who are not a security risk or have a health exception are required to work, either for UNICOR or at some other prison job.[7][9] Inmates earn from US$0.23 per hour up to a maximum of US$1.15 per hour, and all inmates with court-ordered financial obligations must use at least 50% of this UNICOR income to satisfy those debts.[7]

One report [10] detailed a FPI operation at a California prison in which inmates de-manufactured computer cathode-type monitors. Industry standard practice for this mandates a mechanical crushing machine to minimize danger from flying glass, with an isolated air system to avoid releasing lead, barium, phosphor compounds to the workplace atmosphere. At the FPI facility prisoners smashed the CRTs with hammers. The report noted, "Smashing CRTs with hammers is not a common practice in the private sector, nor could it ever be considered a 'best practice.'"

See also


  1. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  2. UNICOR Home > Services > Call Centers for Help Desk Support
  3. Pub.L. 71–271, 46 Stat. 391, enacted May 27, 1930
  4. Pub.L. 73–461, 48 Stat. 1211, enacted June 23, 1934
  5. Executive Order 6917 of 11 December 1934
  6. [1], Post Release Employment Project (PREP) Study, 1991.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  8. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  9. Title XXIX, §2905 of the Crime Control Act of 1990 (P.L. 101-647) required that all offenders in federal prisons must work (the act permitted limitations to this rule on security and health-related grounds).
  10. Corporate Strategies for Electronics Recycling: A Tale of Two Systems[dead link], Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition and Computer Takeback Campaign

External links