Nevada Prison Industry Administrative Rules Now in Place
Following a full year of investigating complaints and revising Nevada’s prison industry program statute(s), a new Administrative Rule (AR 854) regulating the operation of that state’s prison industry operation has been submitted to the Board of Prison Commissioners (BPC) by NDOC Director, Greg Cox. In December this regulation was adopted and became effective.
In October the NDOC submitted a long list of new or amended AR’s to the BPC for approval and implementation. At that time Cox withheld the proposed AR 854 addressing the operation of the agency’s prison industry operations. Cox held back on this single AR by advising the Board he wanted to work with former Senator Richard Bryan on the language of that particular regulation.
On December 17th Director Cox submitted the final negotiated regulation to BPC members, Governor Sandoval, AG Masto and Secretary of State, Ross Miller for consideration. Following approval by the Board, the new prison industry regulations are now in effect.
Critics and opponents of the prison industry program have now adopted a position of “monitoring” the state’s prison industry program. They’re doing so in an effort of ensuring there are no further infringements upon Nevada’s workers and businesses that compete against prison industries. Last year it was discovered that the NDOC regulations were not being fully enforced and state statutes controlling prison industry operations were insufficient to protect both Nevada's private sector workers and competing non-prison partnered businesses.
All of this came about after lawmakers, the media and general public learned that the prison industry program was more or less operating without any real oversight. This allowed the NDOC to “partner” with a local Las Vegas business - Alpine Steel, LLC - in a manner that provided that business with an unfair advantage over competitors and reduced the number of available private sector jobs. Not only did this single business enjoy prison labor far below standard wage rates, but it also received low cost taxpayer subsidized utility costs and lease terms for state owned property that was far below the state averages. Additionally the NDOC failed to enforce most of the terms of the contract it had with Alpine, allowing the company to default on paying the salaries of NDOC staffers, prison workers and monthly lease payments or utility costs and making no effort to cure the defaults.
When this partnership was finally terminated by Governor Sandoval and the smoke cleared, the state was left with an owed debt of nearly half a million dollars. Alpine's owner entered into a negotiated agreement to repay the state but almost immediately defaulted, leaving taxpayers on the hook for hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid leases, staff salaries, utility costs and owed taxes. This failed partnership resulted in the revamping of the state’s statutes controlling Nevada's existing prison industries and all proposed new industries.
During the lengthy legislative activities related to the failed Alpine partnership, other issues were discovered that prison labor activists are continuing to pursue at both state and federal levels. These include the hourly wages paid to inmate workers in the program, deductions taken from prisoner paychecks and working conditions.
Nevada is a participant in a federally run program (Prison Industries Enhancement Certification Program or PIECP) that encourages prison industry/private business partnerships such as the one involving Alpine. However in order to establish and operate under such partnerships both the state and the private business must agree to abide by stringent mandatory conditions required by the federal government. Two of the imposed mandatory requirements are that inmates be paid prevailing wages and that the state can only take approved deductions from those wages. In the case of Alpine, the contract with the state required that inmate workers receive "prevailing wages" (section 8.6) or the same wage paid to private sector workers performing the same duties on the outside. Instead, the NDOC and Alpine set the inmate wage rate at or below the state minimum wage scale, exploiting the labor of inmate workers and further enriching Alpine.
Subsequently it now appears Nevada is underpaying inmates working in the federal program and taking an unapproved deduction of 5% to fund new prison industry operations. In effect Nevada’s inmate workforce are being made to fund operating expenses of the prison industry out of their already meager wages.
Prison labor advocates are attempting to work with the NDOC, Nevada authorities and the responsible federal agency to cure any purported violations regarding the PIECP program to ensure Nevada is in full compliance with current state and federal provisions regarding the use of inmate labor.
Currently the Deputy Director of the NDOC’s Prison Industry, Brian Connett has indicated there are no proposed new industries being considered by the agency. However prior to the furor caused by the Alpine situation, Connett was advocating for a new industry in Nevada operated by a California company. The operation would have used inmate labor at minimum wages to sort through collected trash and remove recyclables. The collection of trash and refuse across the state would have been accomplished by the same California company. This project was moving forward over objections voiced by the labor representative of the Senate's Interim Finance Committee on Industrial Programs, Mr. Mike Magnani. This recycling "industry" was tabled once the Legislature began looking into the prison industry operations.
Businesses and a second labor representative, Rob Conway now sitting upon the legislative Interim Finance Committee will continue to monitor activities of the prison industry to eliminate the possibility of another situation arising that could jeopardize business owners or private workers. Additionally the amended statute requires the Board of Prison Commissioners to review and approve any new industries or expansion of existing ones. Hopefully vigilance by the labor representatives will keep the prison industries and expanded partnerships in check and allow more of Nevada's unemployed to find employment due to the reduction in new prison labor programs that eliminated positions in the past.
Only time will tell if the new regulations prevent another Alpine-styled incident from reoccurring.