You’ve bought jewelry made by residents of homeless shelters, cookies made by at-risk youth and art created by people with mental illnesses. Did you know some of the most common products you can buy are made by people who are incarcerated and serving time? We’re talking cheap labor. Here are 10 products you didn’t know were made by prisoners.
During the years following the Cold War, prisoners in East Germany were paid a fraction of a normal salary to make furniture for Ikea. Prisoners earned about 4 percent of a regular monthly salary. Recently Ikea, which as founded in 1943, apologized to those prisoners for forced labor at unfair salaries.
Inside the Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution, prisoners are making jeans at The Prison Blues Jeans Factory. The factory makes T-shirts and hats too, and has a line of boots named White’s Boots that have become well known.
How do the inmates pass time in the facility with the largest death row in America? By making trinkets such as jewelry boxes. At California’s San Quentin State Prison gift shop (yes, it has a gift shop) you can pick up artsy trinkets made by the inmates — some of whom are on death row. The inmates collect the revenue and use it to buy sundries in prison, or send to their families.
Usually, prison-made products can’t be sold to private companies or customers, but the government is lenient with UNICOR (Federal Prison Industries) when it comes to baseball caps. UNICOR is a U.S. government corporation created in 1934 that uses penal laborers from the Federal Bureau of Prisons to produce goods and services.
For a brief time, Victoria’s Secret and J.C. Penny had an outside company — Third Generation — do their stitch work. And Third Generation passed down that work to prisoners in South Carolina.
The prisoners at the Prison Rehabilitative Industries and Diversified Enterprises in Florida put out more than 3000 different products and services including picnic tables, park benches and wooden trash-can holders that come from its forestry service.
Decide for yourself if it’s appropriate or ironic, but UNICOR uses prisoners to make human silhouette targets used by police in training, members of the FBI and U.S. Customs officers. A U.S. government corporation created in 1934, UNICOR uses prison laborers to produce goods and services.
Braille writing is a common job for prisoners in the U.S. and with the help of the American Printing House for the Blind, convicts help make braille textbooks for blind children in kindergarten through 12th grade. Many inmates also transcribe works of literature into braille.
Much of the clothing and uniforms the U.S. military wears is made by prisoners working at one of the 89 factories that belong to Federal Prison Industries, or UNICOR. The prisoners make everything from helmets to flak vests to body armor. There has been a great deal of controversy over how the federal government can pay prisoners low wages, and what that means in terms of competitiveness for the rest of the market.
Your next day on the lake might be sponsored by a convict. Jailbirds at Fremont County Jail in Colorado is an inmate program that makes canoes out of recycled furniture scraps from the prison furniture store. The same inmates also make custom motorcycles, license plates and fishing rods.