On average, a prisoner in the United States works 12 hour days with a pay as low as 0.49 cents per hour. Even that price is generous, as in some states like Alabama prisoners do not get paid at all. The salary prisoners receive for their labor in the United States private prison system has actually gone down since 2001, and is projected to get worse as time goes on. The mistreatment and exploitation of prisoners in this system are seen as normal practice in the US, and big businesses even benefit from the low labor costs these prisoners receive.
Moving our gaze to Italy, we investigate the success of Gomito a Gomito, a small factory located in the Dozza prison, and how this model compares to prisons and prison labor in the United States. Gomito a Gomito works to help prisoners find their purpose in the prison system, and have the independence to gain their own reasonable salary. We will focus on their methods for rehabilitation and reintegration and how this could be used to improve American prisons.
To get a better gauge on the inner workings and aspirations of Gomito a Gomito, we interviewed Enrica Morandi, an experienced volunteer of the organization who has worked with the company and the prisoners for a few years.
To begin, Morandi expressed that the company’s goal is to provide inmates with a second chance at life and work, help them gain financial independence, and learn new skills that they can use in the real world upon their release.
One thing that allows Gomito a Gomito to function in a way that US prisons cannot is the fact that In Italy, European funds are allocated to finance professional training courses in prisons. This helps foster the rehabilitation and reintegration processes. When further describing how the company functions, Morandi noted that inmates are taught to sew and use recycled and donated fabrics to create mostly bags, but the organization has begun to create other goods such as face masks and aprons. Some of the inmates already know how to sew, but those who don’t are provided with an 80-hour course followed by a three-month “internship” where they are tutored by professional tailors.
A shocking comparison is a difference in the labor hours that are required and of prisoners at Gomito a Gomito, versus those at US private prisons. At Gomito a Gomito, the inmates typically work Monday to Friday for four hours a day. This 20 hour a week work schedule is manageable and a luxury compared to the grueling long hours required of inmates in the US.
The most beneficial aspect of Gomito a Gomito is the positive impacts it has on inmates’ lives. From Morandi’s first-hand experience, the organization allows a way for inmates to use their time in imprisonment effectively and gives them a sense of freedom. That sense of freedom is expanded as they make a salary which they can spend on goods in the prison, save or send home to family.
When learning about the company we were shocked that the organization typically chooses to work with inmates who are serving life sentences. When asking Morandi about this, she stated that this is the case because it generally takes about a year for the inmates to become experienced enough to start creating the products. It is also a way to make these inmates, who oftentimes feel hopeless, that their life has meaning. But recently, the organization has been making more exceptions for inmates with shorter sentences depending on their circumstances.
Furthermore, the privatization of prisons in the United States has increased by 120% since the year 2000. Since 2017 prosecutors have been encouraged by the Bureau of Prisons in the US to pursue “the most serious charges and toughest sentences in all federal cases,” to ensure prison labor stays at an all-time high, and this corrupt system of using prisoners for labor can remain intact (Sentencing). This drive towards keeping prisoners in the system, with little to no pay, does absolutely nothing to help rehabilitate them and prepare them to enter back into society. Perhaps if a company similar to Gomito a Gomito opened in the United States progress within this system could begin, with prisoners able to learn lifelong tangible skills that they can use to reintegrate into the job market.
We have discovered that private prisons in the US focus’ exploiting inmates for their own personal gain. Although they claim to prioritize rehabilitation, their practices prove that claim false (Wright, 2018). The United States prison system relies on overcharging prisoners for necessities like phone calls in order to ensure that upon release they will be dependent on the prison systems, eventually returning. In addition, private prison systems subject their inmates to long hours of work for little to no pay (Moritz-Rabson, 2018). This cycle ensures a constant revenue stream and exploits prisoners for personal gain. Hopefully Gomito a Gomito can serve as an example to the global community, specifically to the US, as the standard for how inmates should be treated, with rehabilitation and the building of self-identity being at the forefront of reform.
Basti,Vinay and Gotsch, Kara. “Capitalizing on Mass Incarceration: U.S. Growth in Private Prisons.” The Sentencing Project, 2 Aug. 2018, www.sentencingproject.org/publications/capitalizing-on-mass-incarceration-u-s-growth-in-private-prisons/.
Daniel Moritz-Rabson. “Inmates in Government Prisons Are Paid Pennies to Manufacture Clothing, License Plates and Office Supplies.” Newsweek, 4 Sept. 2018, www.newsweek.com/prison-slavery-who-benefits-cheap-inmate-labor-1093729.
Sawyer, Wendy. “How Much Do Incarcerated People Earn in Each State?” Prison Policy Initiative, 10 Apr. 2017, www.prisonpolicy.org/blog/2017/04/10/wages/.
Wright, L.B. “The American Prison System: It’s Just Business.” Fordham Journal of Corporate and Financial Law, 9 Dec. 2018, news.law.fordham.edu/jcfl/2018/12/09/the-american-prison-system-its-just-business/.