Thursday, February 20, 2014

Nevada Prison Industry Administrative Rules Now in Place

silver state industries
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.
Sen. Richard Bryan
Sen. Richard Bryan
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.
NDOC Dir. Cox
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.
Alpine SteelAll 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.
DD ConnettPrison 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.
CONWAY ROBERT PDBusinesses 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.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Former Florida prisons chief who took kickbacks released from federal prison

Former Florida DOC Secretary, James Crosby sent to prison for corruption involving kickbacks, was released today from federal prison.  His sentence was reduced last year after he helped authorities convict two co-defendants who participated in a $130,000 kick back scheme to Crosby and one of his chief district administrators, AC Clark.  The Kickbacks involved a canteen/commissary contract between the FDOC and Keefe Commissary Network - that still has the FDOC contract and has never been prosecuted for their part in the scheme.

Clark was convicted and sent to prison as well and released after serving less time than Crosby.

Read the full article here:

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

                                                        By Bob Sloan
On Tuesday March 19th, the Nevada Board of Prison Commissioners (BPC) met in Carson City to discuss an assortment of prison related issues.  Members of the BPC are: Governor Brian Sandoval, Attorney General, Catherine Cortez-Masto and Secretary of State, Ross Miller.
Issues of: (a) realignment of state Parole and Probation responsibilities with the Nevada Department of Corrections (NDOC; (b) compliance with the federal Rape Elimination Act; (c) certifying the Nevada State Prison as a Historical Site was on the agenda.  However, the topic which generated the most heated public discussion was listed on the agenda was: (d) a review of the prison industries program run by the NDOC.
As I’ve reported over the past two or three months, there has been an increasing amount of criticism of NDOC Director Greg Cox and Deputy Director Brian Connett over the operation of the state’s prison industry program.  This program operates under the name “Silver State Industries” and employs hundreds of inmates in various industrial programs.  Many of those prison workers are actually “employed “by private corporations and companies.
The need for discussion of prison industries during this meeting of the BPC came about due to a total lack of transparency surrounding the program.  The NDOC is reluctant to pull the veil of secrecy from prison industry operations that has hidden it from public and legislative view for years.  This was demonstrated in the meeting on the 19th by Secretary of State Miller when he was forced once again to request a list of industries being run by SSI.  AG Masto made the same request at the previous meeting in December and was assured by Deputy Director Connett that one would be provided at the following meeting.  At this time, no such list has been provided to the BPC by Cox or Connett.
Additionally, for more than two years SSI successfully hid from the BPC and Legislature the fact that Alpine Steel was not paying inmate and staff wages, lease payments, utilities or workers compensation payments owed to the state.  The NDOC also hid their lack of compliance with state statutes requiring notification to private businesses and labor before initiating new industries and took that one step further, by not even apprising the BPC in 2006 of the Alpine contract and creation of the steel fabrication industry.
SSI is operating at least half a dozen industries under the federal PIE Program – yet the Interim Finance Committee on Prison Industrial Programs was never made aware of the mandatory requirements of that program – or that those requirements also called for consulting private businesses and union officials.  The Prison Industries have not paid  inmate workers in the program comparable wages as mandated and have kept that secret from both the BPC and the Committee.
On March 8th the Agenda for the NDOC Budget hearing before the Ways and Means Committee listed several of the prison industries the NDOC claim were operating – but at least one of those was closed back in 2011.  So those excluded by this blanket of secrecy surrounding SSI operations includes the Nevada Assembly.  Unbelievably the one industry that has been closed for nearly two years is still being presented to the BPC as viable and operating and was mentioned as a positive in last week’s Prison Commissioner meeting.
The need for a review by the BPC in the first place was necessitated by this ongoing secrecy and lack of transparency exhibited by the NDOC, the Director and Deputy Director of Prison Industries.  It was this that caused several Nevada companies to complain the prison industry operation was being used to drive down wages in the private sector, reduce the number of available jobs for unemployed workers and argue prison based companies are competing unfairly against others in the marketplace, causing closure of smaller businesses.
At first it was a handful of steel fabrication companies that complained prison-based companies are competing unfairly against others in the marketplace by using – illegally underpaid - inmate labor to underbid on contracts.  But by the day of the meeting, another business owner named BIllow in an entirely different industry was identified as having notified the Governor and the NDOC for more than two years that his embroidery business had been compromised due to direct competition from prison industries.  This complaint had no impact upon that competition that continues to harm that man’s business in the private sector.
Responding on behalf of those complaining, former U.S. Senator Richard Bryan (D NV) proposed to the BPC that Nevada adopt the federal Prison Industry Enhancement Certification Program’s (PIE Program) mandatory requirements as Nevada's prison industry regulations.  The PIE regulations require prison industries to contact and consult with labor groups, unions and private businesses to determine if there will be a negative impact upon sales, displacement of workers or jobs lost prior to commencing any new product line or industry.  They also require inmate wages set at the same rate as those performing identical jobs on the outside.
The state takes back most of the inmate’s earnings to offset the costs of incarceration, healthcare, feeding and clothing of inmates and for victim restitution and to repay fines or fees owed by the prisoner.  Senator Bryan’s proposed solution is simple and easily adopted since Nevada currently holds a PIECP Certificate issued by the U.S. Department of Justice and has six industries participating in the PIE Program.  These SSI industries already have to abide by the mandatory requirements in more than 50% of their operations. Making it applicable to remaining industry operations, would be easily accomplished and resolve the current issues.  This proposal had the support of many of those who spoke to the BPC last Tuesday on this and other issues.
Prison industry operations nationwide have been increasingly scrutinized and widely reported.  Strangely, however, most labor groups and unions have remained silent about the impact – if any – upon their members or workers from competition with prison industries.  The meeting Tuesday broke that ongoing silence, with both the Nevada Executive Secretary Treasurer of the AFLCIO, Danny Thompson and Robbie Conway, Business Agent of Ironworkers Local 433 sitting down with the BPC and objecting to the ongoing competition from prison labor.  Others representing Nevada Law Enforcement, Parole and Probation workers and NDOC employees, also stated their support for the proposed adoption of PIE regulations.
To be fair, the one member of the Committee representing labor is Mr. Magnani of the Teamsters who is totally outnumbered by NDOC, legislative and business members.  His single voice and vote is constantly outweighed by the two members representing the NDOC (Director Cox and NDOC purchasing agent, Greg Smith) and seven more representing business and the legislature. Time and again the minutes reflect Magnani asked for materials, lists of industries in operation and on occasion voiced his opposition to suggested actions advanced by the NDOC (such as the current proposal for a prison based recycling industry).  None of his requests resulted in Connett or the NDOC providing what he’d requested and his vote opposing actions proposed by the NDOC or SSI went against a majority of votes favoring the proposals.
Some members of the Committee would be absent for several meetings then return and cast a vote without any real understanding of what they were voting on – just that the proposals were favored by the NDOC.  So the suggestion presented by Connett last week to the BPC that the “advisory Committee” was a good representation for labor and businesses alike, was disingenuous and misleading at best.
Joining Union voices in opposition of making inmate labor available to private companies were a number of non-union businesses in a rare demonstration of solidarity.  Nearly a dozen union and non-union steel companies signed petitions to the BOPC objecting to the use of prison labor by Alpine Steel, Inc. as a means of underbidding them for steel construction projects in Nevada.  Alpine had been using inmate labor as a means of gaining an advantage over competitors since 2006.
The three petitions stated:
“Honorable Governor Sandoval, Attorney General Masto and Secretary of State Miller;
"We the undersigned owners of steel businesses in Nevada wish to voice our objection to competing against state subsidized prison industries in Southern Nevada.  Competing against prison labor reduces the number of jobs available in our industry and hampers our businesses from expanding.”
Signatories included; Southwest Steel, Tandem Industries, Vegas Steel, Inc., Southern Nevada Welding, A & N Custom Fabricators, XL Steel and Imperial Iron, Inc.
The letter from Southwest Steel outlined the objection(s) best:
“Honorable Governor Sandoval, Attorney General Masto & Secretary of State Miller;
As you all know too well, the construction industry in the Las Vegas valley is as competitive as it’s been in 20 years. With that being said, companies large and small have had to make radical changes; be it cutback of manpower, chase work in different markets or revisit our business model in its entirety, to maintain existence over the last 3 – 4 years has been a challenge.
“As the Vice President of Operations for one of the larger steel companies in Nevada, I wish to voice our Company’s objection to competing against state subsidized prison industries in Southern Nevada. Competing against prison labor reduces the number of jobs available in our industry and hampers our businesses from expanding.
” Tom Morgan
Vice President, Operations
Southwest Steel”
The references to “state subsidized prison industries” come from the unpaid debt outlined above.  For several years Alpine was able to continue operations at the High Desert State Prison, working approximately fifty inmates for several years without paying any of the costs associated with keeping the industry operating.
The state of Nevada has had to pay supervisory staff’s salaries, cover the utility costs of Alpine Steel and absorb the lost lease payments.  The total cost to Nevada’s Taxpayers? $438,000+ according to the forbearance agreement between the Attorney General’s office, NDOC and Alpine Steel:
Only after complaints against Alpine Steel’s use of inmate labor was it discovered that the company had been operating basically without covering the costs of operations – which were ultimately passed on to Nevada taxpayers.   Silver State Industries had curiously authorized the steel fabricating prison industry to remain open and available to Alpine even as SSI was losing money throughout 2011 and 2012, essentially “doubling down” in the hope of recovering its losses.  Once the “debt” and gambling was made public, SSI was forced to close the steel fabrication industry and deny further inmate labor to Alpine.
The foregoing debt is to be paid off over another four year period, very surprisingly given the circumstances, without any interest going forward, unless Alpine defaults on monthly payments of $5,000.  An additional state tax lien  was placed against Alpine Steel in January of this year for another $38,000 plus owed to the Nevada Department of Taxation.
The Alpine Steel story reveals that this company is responsible for the current problems and full media attention now focused upon Nevada’s prison industry program after the Associated Press,Bloomberg BusinessYahoo Finance and California media picked up this story and spread it as far as New Zealand and Australia.  The entire program and indeed, prisoner labor has now come under intense international scrutiny because of the complaints brought against Alpine Steel and the subsidization of its business using Nevadans’ tax dollars.  
This has now resulted in the prison industry program being publicly brought to its knees while state regulations and statutes are under review for amendment because of the actions of Alpine Steel and the NDOC - which occurred without proper oversight.  With the steel fabrication industry shut down, Randy Bulloch has been transformed from a “partner” in the prison industrial program, to a “debtor” forced by the state to repay a huge sum owed to the NDOC.  He has not melted into obscurity with the stigma of having bilked taxpayers out of nearly half a million dollars, instead coming to every meeting involving prison industries and doing his best to fight on behalf of access to inmate labor.
Bulloch and Alpine are out of the prison industry program and business, yet surprisingly, Bulloch is now the “Poster Child” for prisoner labor.  He is now being used by the NDOC to argue on behalf of continuing the program!  Bulloch and NDOC Deputy Director Connett have been seen conferring and whispering before and after budget hearings and meetings – like co-defendants instead of partners in a failed business relationship - a weird sort of relationship with one owing the other nearly a half a million dollars and both continuing to work together.
Mr. Bulloch confided to me in an exclusive interview that he would once again use prisoners to fabricate his steel components…as long as he did not have to pay “comparable wages” to inmates, as was suggested by Senator Bryan’s proposal.  Yet there he was on Tuesday, arguing fiercely in support of the prison industry program, his lone voice supporting prison industries and opposing the views presented by unions, unemployed workers and private businesses.  One has to wonder - why?
Curiously, Director Cox and Deputy Director Connett assign no blame for their current circumstances to Bulloch or Alpine - perhaps that is why Bulloch continues to act as a spokesman on behalf of prison industries.  It will be interesting to see if Randy Bulloch continues his advocacy on behalf of prison labor in future meetings or hearings in the absence of any official business relationship with prison industries.
Nevada companies argue that aside from being forced to compete against already low wages paid to prisoners by Alpine Steel, they have had to pay proper taxes, utilities, leases and workers compensation…or be closed down by the state of Nevada.  This creates a situation whereby the State of Nevada is subsidizing an unfair advantage to Alpine.   This not only hampers any business expansion by free enterprise companies, it also reduces the number of jobs available to unemployed steel workers in Nevada.
Critics of the prison industry programs operated by SSI point to the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee (the Committee) on Industrial Programs as failing in their duties of oversight.  They blame the committee for failing to protect businesses and workers against prison industry operations.
This committee is made up of Assembly members, Legislators, business owners or representatives and the one member representing labor (Mr. Magnani):
Assemblyman James Ohrenschall, Chair
Senator David R. Parks, Vice Chair
Senator Dean A. Rhoads
Assemblyman John Ellison
Bruce Aguilera, Las Vegas – (Vice President/General Counsel, Bellagio)
Michael Mackenzie, Las Vegas – (Principal, Operations Improvement Company)
Mike Magnani, Las Vegas – (Teamster/Union Representative)
Allen J. Puliz, Las Vegas – (Moving and Storage Co.)
James "Greg" Cox, Director, Department of Corrections
Greg Smith, Purchasing Division
Alternate Members
Debra Miller, Las Vegas
Scott Stolberg, Las Vegas
Richard Serlin, Las Vegas
While the arguments of a lack of protecting some businesses from unfair competition appear factual, other businesses represented on this Committee have profited handsomely from prison labor and industries.  In this undated article, NDOC Deputy Director, Howard Skolnik (who preceded Brian Connett) bragged about the prison industry, saying:
“Skolnik explained, ‘I suspect that most people don't know that anything they are using is made by inmates. More and more of it is. If you have been in many of our major properties you have seen a stained glass window, you have seen something that is manufactured in one of our institutions.’
They built all the original stained glass in the Excalibur; make casino mattresses, chairs for attorneys, and exclusive lines of clothing for airport retailers. They make award plaques, reupholster cars and rebuild water trucks for a local water company…”
Those involved in the Casino industry in Nevada appear to have profited off of prison labor due to the manufacture of mattresses and custom stained glass products – as have clothing retailers selling to travelers and tourists passing through Nevada’s airports.
This “Committee” has been overseeing prison industries since the late 1980’s and every industry, product, contract with a private company and for determining the impact upon competing companies and workers, comes under their responsibility.  They had to approve the prison industry manufacture of the stained glass for the Excalibur and for the mattresses for casino/resorts…and the manufacture of clothing for sale to tourists.
Once the Committee makes their decision on new products or a new industry, that decision is supposed to then go to the Board of Prison Commissioners for final review and approval or denial.  In the recent case involving Alpine Steel, the BPC stated publicly that this was “an isolated incident when a contract was enacted without clearance from the prison board.”  Whether this was indeed an “isolated incident” or a practice of the Committee that became the standard over the years, is unknown.  Certainly the experience of Mr. Billow makes claims of Alpine Steel being an “isolated” incident difficult to swallow.
Throughout this story the elephant in the room remains the total lack of transparency and absence of independent oversight.  The Committee does not pursue any review of programs or industries submitted to them by the NDOC’s Deputy Director of Prison Industries.  Connett brings them a proposal for a new industry or product line and informs that he has determined this would be a viable industry or contract.  The only information obtained by the Committee is a one-sided presentation from the NDOC.  They perform no independent analysis, provide no notice to the public, labor unions of competing private businesses.  No opportunity is provided to any of these affected groups to attend a subsequent meeting where the proposal would be discussed.
Instead, as we now understand from both the NDOC Director and the BPC, the Committee has been operating as the final word on approving new industries.  The requirement of forwarding Committee recommendations to the BPC for final review and approval has been somehow eliminated.  The skipping of this important step results in the NDOC securing approval of an “interim” legislative body for new programs without notice or conference with the executive department.  The BPC has overall authority over the NDOC but in this manner they are kept out of the loop and the only safeguards provided to the public is a small Committee that has never performed their duties as required.
Even if the chain of review operated as required, this Committee would end up stamping proposals with their recommendation and forwarding it to the BPC – with a recommendation that was determined in the absence of any actual review, public input or notice.  Their determinations would be based solely upon the presentation made by the NDOC accompanied by a departmental analysis indicating the program and contract with a private company would be successful.
But, if as the BPC claims, the approval for the manufacture of products for the casinos, resorts and clothing retailers, water trucks, limousines and restoring classic cars, were ultimately not approved by them, they would still share responsibility with the Committee for lost jobs or contracts resulting from those operations.  They too have a duty to perform final reviews and failed to notice that new proposals were not being submitted.
The fact that the BPC is now attempting to address the issue and make corrections to ensure no more Nevadans lose jobs and businesses aren’t faced with unfair competition, is a benchmark.  It also highlights that the Committee has been shirking their duties for decades, approving whatever plans the NDOC and SSI put before them without vetting the company’s or the industries proposed by SSI.  They performed no independent or impartial reviews of such proposals, failed to determine factually the impact upon labor and other businesses before stamping each submission “approved”.  Again, one has to ask – why?
The proposal made by Senator Bryan makes good sense to most.  The argument against it came from NDOC Deputy Director Connett and Alpine’s owner, Randy Bulloch.  Both voiced their opposition to installing the PIE regulations as Nevada law or regulation, claiming that paying prisoners wages comparable to that paid on the outside, would remove the key incentive that attract businesses that exploit inmates    - and ultimately result in the loss of jobs to Nevadans.
Connett told the BPC, “I can’t pay prevailing wages.  If I have to pay prisoners prevailing wages, it would mean closing the industry program completely.”  That statement was more revealing than most who heard it realized.  In the PIE Program industries operated by SSI, prisoners are paid “minimum wage”, not “comparable” or “prevailing” wages as required.  SSI is required to consult with outside businesses and labor unions and groups prior to commencing any new PIE operation…and has not complied with these requirements either.
This explains why Director Cox and Connett have refused to mention or discuss the PIE Program when defending Nevada’s prison industries.  Nor has Connett explained his conflict of interest as head of the NCIA – which promotes prison industries and is tasked with ensuring compliance on behalf of the U.S. Department of Justice. Another duty Deputy Director Connett has failed to fulfill.
Apparently the NDOC and top officials fear the BPC or general public looking at the PIE Program’s requirements, will find that the federal mandates have been ignored as well as existing state statutory requirements.  
In the next article I will report on my exclusive interview with Randy Bulloch and other interviews obtained while I was in Nevada for the BPC meeting.  I’ll also introduce Jacob’s Trading Company and owner Irwin Jacob and how both have attempted to build a unique empire using prison labor and factories.  JTC operates another of SSI’s prison industries in Nevada using female prisoners as a unique labor force and SSI has applied for funding to expand the facilities for JTC to put on a third shift and employ an additional 18 workers.  This discussion continues, while Nevada’s unemployed remains at near record levels and Governor Sandoval continues to inform that creating jobs is his number one priority.
2:40 PM PT: Regardless of whether Governor Sandoval and the BPC adopt the proposed PIE Program regulations as state reg's, the Governor stated, ""Under no circumstances would I want prison labor displacing private sector jobs," Sandoval said. "I don't want a situation where private contractors are underbidding by subsidizing with prison labor."
This statement combined with assurances that no further prison industries will be opened without approval from the BPC, indicates business owners and unemployed Nevadans are being offered at least a modicum of protection by the Governor and other members of the BPC.

The Result of Bureaucrats’ Operating as Businessmen
In the continuing saga of Nevada’s Silver State Industries (SSI), the Legislature’s Ways and Means Committee held a hearing this past Friday, March 8th to discuss the budget of the Nevada DOC which includes state prison industry operations.
Critics of the industry program have found traction with the discovery that Alpine Steel, a private company, had access to inmate labor, subsidized facility leases and even with those subsidized benefits owed the state more than $400,000 in accrued debt.  In late 2012 when this story first broke, it was discovered that Alpine also owed inmate workers back wages to the tune of $78,000.  Because inmates are “assigned” to industry jobs by the NDOC, they were prohibited from simply quitting or asking for a reassignment due to not being paid.  They worked for an extended period without receiving any compensation for their labor – or if they were paid the wages did not come from their employer, Alpine Steel.
On Friday morning Committee members had an opportunity to question two top NDOC officials, Director Cox and his Deputy Director in charge of prison industries, Brian Connett.  Those in attendance described the meeting as tense between lawmakers and corrections officials.
Once this story broke in the media, Alpine made the necessary back wage payments to the inmate workers – but continues to owe the state for delinquent lease payments and NDOC staff salaries.  One Assemblyman asked the Deputy Director if the state had paid those salaries, and if so had Alpine repaid the outstanding wages.  The response was a half-truth, with Connett responding, “The back wages have all been paid.”  In fact those wages are part of the total $415,000 owed by Alpine.  The wages already paid are those owed to inmate workers – not NDOC staffers, which remain outstanding.
At times lawmakers displayed exasperation as they attempted to extract factual answers from Cox and Connett, who had difficulty answering direct questions related to prison industry operations; failing industry programs, financial losses and low cost leases of public facilities to private companies.
Cox and Connett were even less open about the situation involving Alpine Steel’s use of inmate labor to compete against other businesses in Southern Nevada, or the huge sum owed by Alpine to the NDOC for back lease and DOC staff payments.
Though lawmakers voiced concerns of the impact upon workers in the private sector and competing businesses, Cox and Connett did not seem to share those concerns, instead advocating that inmates need training while incarcerated to help reduce recidivism.  The irony of turning prisoner training over to a company with a history of questionable business practices - IRS tax liens ($668,000+), $415,000 in back lease and DOC staff salary obligations, unpaid state taxes (new Nevada Dept. of Taxation lien for $37,000 filed within the past month against Alpine’s owner, Randy Bulloch), lawsuits for money owed to creditors (F&M Steel and Pierce Aluminum) and is in litigation over unpaid worker’s compensation claims ($84,716 owed to Explorer Insurance Co.) – was apparently lost on Director Cox.
After all the controversy, debt owed to the state and concerns of both Nevada’s organized labor, workers and private businesses, Cox appeared openly insensitive to both issues by advising Committee members if Alpine’s business picked up, he would reopen the metal fabrication shop at High Desert State Prison to the company! This is indicative of a bureaucrat who genuinely believes he can make such decisions without consulting higher government or legislative authorities.
The general attitude of both was that inmate training was more important than the possible loss of jobs to Nevada’s unemployed steel workers, the potential for lost tax dollars or the impact upon businesses competing with Alpine Steel – or any of the half dozen other companies operating under joint venture contracts with Silver State Industries.
At one point Connett indicated that some of those complaining had been offered a chance to “partner” with the prison industry and had declined, seeming to suggest those businesses shared responsibility for any damage resulting from competition from prison industry operations…because they didn’t take him up on the offer.
Some answers provided to the Committee were enlightening, if incomplete.  Director Cox stated,”the cold hard facts are now that we have to aggressively look at what industries are not turning a profit.”
In addition to losses sustained by prison industry operations, the administrative office is operating in the red ($165,000+ over past two years), the industries’ furniture and metal, auto, upholstery and drapery shops have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars during the past few years.  Collectively Silver State Industries lost $81,597 in 2011 and $237,793 last year overall.
In 2010 the prison industries turned over more than $800,000 in accounts receivable to a collection agency and currently SSI’s past due AR account is in excess of $600,000.  In the budget discussion it was disclosed that the prison industry arm of the NDOC had a reserve fund of $1.5 million which due to continuous losses has been reduced to half a million.  If forced to absorb Alpine’s debt, the reserve fund will be exhausted.
In response to the dwindling reserve, Assemblyman David Bobzien, D-Reno voiced concern that when that reserve is exhausted, the prison industry would begin to dip into the general revenue fund, saying, “This is a clear track into the dirt, and without substantial retooling, it’ll be in the hole”
Bobzien and Assemblyman Michael Sprinkle, D-Sparks, questioned Cox about whether industry programs would be cut and what the department would do to get its industry program on a sustainable track.
Cox said he’s “very pessimistic” about future revenues and that “when resources go, of course programs will go.”  They were unable to get Cox to provide them with definitive responses or propose solutions to cure the industry’s financial woes.
“It appears that at some point the reserves are going to run out, but in the meantime, it’s a loss-loss across the state,” Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, said, weighing in.
Kirkpatrick also had difficulty getting straight answers to some of her questions on business management issues and as to whether the prison industry program is really about training or rather a work program, putting inmates to work for privately owned companies at the expense of non-inmate workers.
In supporting the prison industry operations, Connett pointed to the “Big House Chopper” program.  An industry created by Howard Skolnik when he was in Connett’s position.  While using that program as an indicator of the work inmates were capable of and alluding that this industry was successful, he failed to advise the Committee thathe closed that program two years previously:
“Mr. Magnani said some time ago the motorcycle production was shut down, there was some motorcycles that Prison Industries was attempting to sell online. Mr. Magnani requested an update to the status of the built motorcycles. Mr. Connett informed the Committee that three motorcycles were for sale. Prison Industries was looking at reducing the price based on the current market. The motorcycle operation has been discontinued.”
Prison Industries manufactured a total of five motorcycles.  Two of those were sold in a “sweetheart deal” to one of Connett’s other prison industry companies, Thomson Equipment.  Despite vigorous advertising on eBay and other outlets, the remaining three have now sat for several years without any interest shown by potential buyers.  Another example of funds wasted to advance a prison project that has eaten away at the profits generated by other industries – both in dollars spent for materials as well as advertising.
Clearly referring to the motorcycle industry, the Deputy Director exhibited these half-truths to the Ways and Means Committee in an attempt to justify the need and usefulness of continued “training” of prisoners – whether the industry providing the training is viable or not.  In the case of Big House Choppers, it is long gone.
Examinations of the financial statement(s) for SSI for 2011-12 reflect that traditional prison industries such as farming, ranching, license plates, prison garment(s) and printing were all profitable.  It is the industries operating in partnership with private companies that are failing; metal shop (Alpine), drapery, automotive and upholstery for example.
Not only are these failing industries losing money, they are the ones negatively impacting upon private workers, potential workers and suppressing expansion of competing Nevada businesses.  These are also the industries that have been receiving substantial tax and lease benefits that are denied to competing businesses, resulting in an unfair advantage.  Companies using inmate labor do not appear to be paying Nevada’s Modified Business Tax, which further depletes the tax base while increasing potential corporate profits and disadvantaging their competitors.
Another issue of contention was the lease agreement between SSI and Alpine.  In 2011 Alpine was in arrears yet Connett authorized a lease contract that provided 19,000 square feet of manufacturing space at the unbelievable rate of $.26 cents per square foot ($5,000 per month).  The Nevada average for such space has been depressed due to the recession, but is currently at $.68 cents per square foot.  For the same square footage a private company would pay $12,990 per month in the “free world.”  This saved Alpine as much as $95,000 a year in operating expenses.  Assemblyman Bobzien called the Alpine lease an “unfair subsidy”.  There was no question as to how many of the other companies partnered with SSI were receiving similar low cost leases.
All of the losses described above, lead to more than an “appearance” of total mismanagement.  It is assumed that Greg Cox was chosen as the Director of the NDOC based upon an ongoing career in corrections.  He wasn’t chosen for his business acumen.  Putting him in charge of overseeing contracts, leasing arrangements and other commercial business decisions appears to be well outside his expertise.  Between them, Cox and Connett have made decisions that have negatively impacted taxpayers, private businesses and Nevada’s workers – yet when called before a legislative body to explain those decisions, they exhibited their lack of actual knowledge and experience in business practices.  Making matters worse they demonstrated they were willing to blunder through and by making statements claiming they would reopen the prison metal industry to Alpine Steel…and claiming Alpine Steel deserved a lower lease rate because of the difficulties of getting materials in and out of the prison and transportation logistics.
Again it needs to be said that those are matters for someone higher along the government chain to consider and make the final decision on.  It is unrealistic to allow a Deputy Director or Director to enter into binding contracts and leases that reduce the revenue streams from leasing state owned property or facilities.  It is also unrealistic to give Cox or Connett the authority to waive payments owed for leases, salaries or materials owed to the state.  By assuming these duties, these bureaucrats were gambling with taxpayer money, betting on Alpine Steel and similar companies to ultimately become viable and repay debts owed – debts they allowed to accrue and are now having difficulty justifying.  All can now see they lost that wager, with Alpine Steel and other companies owing NDOC more than $600,000 collectively.
In the public discussion period following the questioning of Cox and Connett, Danny Thompson, executive secretary treasurer of the Nevada AFL-CIO discussed the impact upon non-inmate workers on the outside from contracts such as that between SSI and Alpine.  He brought up the issue of safety to Nevada citizens that travel over or under a bridge spanning Interstate 15 that was constructed using prisoners in a “training program”. He said Alpine Steel produced steel girders for the construction project at the North Fifth Street Bridge in North Las Vegas and he questioned whether strict certification requirements for such projects were complied with in the training of inmate workers.
Thompson also called into question whether the materials used in the project met strict industry, state and federal specifications as to stress, weight and other factors involving materials used in the project – and wanted to know if inspections were conducted properly.  He also expressed concerns over the Wet ‘N’ Wild theme park project where Alpine was the structural steel contractor, saying he worried about the safety of children and families who would be visiting the park where inmates in training made many of the steel components.
A member of the Iron Workers Union, Local 433, Robert Conway also spoke, stating he had three hundred and fifty qualified iron workers without jobs, while the state was helping provide inmate welders for Alpine at wages far below the prevailing wage.  He also voiced concerns over the safety issues raised by allowing inmate steel workers to fabricate steel components used in public projects.
In response to criticism from Committee members and the public, Alpine owner, Randy Bulloch appeared via teleconference from Las Vegas and issued a statement in response to Thompson’s concerns, claiming that inmate workers were in fact certified as required.  He denied the use of structural steel components manufactured by Alpine in the bridge project and added that he had copies of material inspections and specs.  Bulloch spoke about his company in general terms but made no effort to defend the use of prison labor in the manufacture of structural steel used in his business.  It should be noted that Alpine Steel makes no mention on their website of the use of prison labor in manufacturing steel components, or that the company is involved in helping train prisoners.  That factoid is noticeably absent – as it is with TJ Wholesale and Jacob’s Trading, two other companies partnered with SSI and leasing facilities from the NDOC.
What wasn’t posed to Connett and Cox in the questioning by the Assembly Committee was the issue of a potential conflict of interest involving Nevada’s prison industry and compliance oversight.
The trade group,National Correctional Industries Association (NCIA) provides oversight over all prison industries in the U.S. and of late, internationally.  The NCIA does this under a grant from the Bureau of Justice Assistance.
This trade group advocates and lobbies on behalf of companies, corporations and organizations involved in prison industry operations, supplying those operations or benefiting from the labor of inmates.  Connett is currently serving as the Chairman of the NCIA and thus able to make determinations as to whether his actions and thus SSI are in compliance with prevailing laws.
This trade group advocates and lobbies on behalf of companies, corporations and organizations involved in prison industry operations, supplying those operations or benefiting from the labor of inmates.  Connett is currently serving as the  and thus able to make determinations as to whether his actions and thus SSI are in compliance with prevailing laws.
Many of the questions posed to Cox and Connett by the Committee members arose due to a comprehensive study I conducted for the non-profit Voters Legislative Transparency Project(VLTP) organization. As Executive Director with an interest in prison industries, I have been involved in researching and investigating prison industry programs for more than a decade.  In January VLTP submitted the studyof Nevada’s prison industries to members of the Nevada legislature, Governor Sandoval, AG Masto and Secretary of State, Ross Miller.
In that report many of the deficiencies and issues discussed Friday were presented along with documentation supporting the conclusions and recommendations made.  The questions posed by Committee members indicates they had all read the study and wanted answers to the questions raised by the research.
One observation made during the research phase of compiling the study, is that it appears that Cox, Connett and the NDOC are attempting to run the state department of corrections as a “business” rather than a state agency.  Partnering with businessmen and women who deal daily in matters of profit/loss and market share, the NDOC is woefully unprepared, as the accounts receivable and low-cost lease to Alpine demonstrate.  Director Cox, Connett and the NDOC seem not to understand that any losses arising from these partnerships between SSI and private companies are ultimately borne by Nevada’s taxpayers.  This already happened in 2010 when Cox’s predecessor, Howard Skolnik applied for a Supplemental appropriation from the Legislature due to losses incurred from recession and reductions in prison industry income.
With more than a million in uncollected debt since 2010 and lost streams of revenue due to sub-par leases, industries losing hundreds of thousands of dollars annually, the NDOC is being critically mismanaged.  As a state agency, it is the taxpayer who will be left making up the lost revenue from this lack of management.
One recommendation made directly to the Governor was that Nevada adopts the in-place mandatory guidelines of the Prison Industries Enhancement Certification Program (Pie Program).  This program allows joint ventures between private companies and state prison industries.  It provides a way for private enterprise to have access to inmate labor and to distribute products across state lines, sell to the U.S. government in amounts exceeding $10,000 and to sell those goods in consumer markets.
The Pie Program has nine mandatory requirements and four of those developed by Congress for this program include:
Wages. Authority to pay wages at a rate not less than that paid for work of a similar nature in the locality in which the work is performed.
Non-inmate worker displacement. Written assurances that PIECP will not result in the displacement of employed workers; be applied in skills, crafts, or trades in which there is a surplus of available gainful labor in the locality; or significantly impair existing contracts.
Consultation with organized labor. Written proof of consultation with organized labor prior to program startup.
Consultation with local private industry. Written proof of consultation with local private industry prior to program startup.
Nevada is already participating in this program and has Pie Program operations running in the prison industry.  Those businesses appear to be operating without financial losses to the state or SSI, in compliance with the mandatory requirements and thus, not exhibiting any of the problems the non-Pie Program involving Alpine is.
Adopting these regulations would ensure consultation with competing businesses, labor groups, and unions ensuring inmates are paid the required prevailing wage.  Since the NDOC deducts 24.5% of the gross wages paid to inmate workers, the amount taken through this deduction would increase and those funds would be used to offset the costs of incarceration. Combine adopting these guidelines with genuine oversight provided by the Nevada Board of Prison Commissioners, chaired by Governor Sandoval and I believe this is a solution to the existing problems experienced by the NDOC.
Continuing to allow a private non-profit trade association to oversee the state’s prison industries in the face of the controversy that has erupted while they had such oversight duties, is asking for more trouble.  As the head of the NCIA Connett has demonstrated he lacks the desire to enforce compliance and he is willing to put the interests of that organization above his responsibilities to the state.

Friday, July 20, 2012

News Service of Florida: 5 Questions for Jim McDonough

by Margie Menzel, The News Service of Florida 

The below article containing the responses of former Florida Department of Corrections Secretary, Jim McDonough was published today.
Secretary McDonough answered tough questions about Governor Rick Scott's continuing pursuit of privatization of everything "Prison" in Florida...
James R. McDonough was the secretary of the Florida Department of Corrections from 2006 to 2008. He was tapped by Gov. Jeb Bush, for whom he'd worked as Florida's drug czar since 1999. McDonough moved to DOC after Bush fired Secretary James Crosby, who later went to prison for taking kickbacks.
His no-nonsense style proved the antidote to scandal at DOC. He fired or demoted dozens of prison officials and instituted random drug tests and mandatory fitness programs for employees. He angered many, but is widely credited for cleaning up the place.
Since leaving DOC, McDonough has stayed active in corrections. He's involved with the "smart justice" movement to cut recidivism via substance abuse and mental health treatment and basic education for prisoners. He also favors diversion programs and other reforms, and is comfortable sailing against the political winds.
"Politics in Florida has been such that public officials are afraid to appear, quote, weak on crime," he said. "And the way that's defined is, 'Don't lighten up on the sentencing in any way whatsoever.'"
A retired Army colonel, McDonough has won three Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart. He's written three books: "Platoon Leader;" "The Defense of Hill 781;" and "The Limits of Glory."
The News Service of Florida has five questions for Jim McDonough:
Q: Privatization is a big part of Gov. Rick Scott's approach to cutting prison costs. Agree or disagree?
McDONOUGH: I don't agree. There are some things government has to do. If you're going to be incarcerating its citizens, that's a state function, not a for-profit function. Right away, you have problems when you take that approach.
I think Florida became a very lucrative state to market private prison systems and the services that came with it. The medical issue, I think, is tied in with all of that. If the state is going to arrest people and put them behind bars, it picks up the obligation to look after their health – and not market that out to the most attractive bidder, which usually means the lowest bidder.
I'm not surprised Florida became such a target for the private companies. It's a huge market, and became, on the surface, an attractive way to go.
Now, in my opinion, it's the obligation of the state. I think if it becomes the obligation of the state, it'll be justly met. But if you turn it into an enterprise, with commercial profits involved, it's a risky business.
Q: The backers of private prisons argue they're more efficient than state prisons. True?
McDONOUGH: In my time as head of the corrections system of Florida, I considered it my obligation to look into the housing of all of the inmates, whether they were cared for by the state or the private prisons.
Clearly there was an effort to send to the privates the easier inmates to handle. That meant that you don’t have the more misbehaving inmates or the more dangerous inmates or the more medically ill inmates going to the privates. So for the privates, that becomes an advantage. If you're not working overtime to take care of all of that, and spending the money, then the overall outcome appears to be less expensive.
But it's not. When [private prisons] grow and take increasing percentages of the inmates, they get the ill as well as the well. They get the violent as well as the non-violent. They get the dangerous as well as the stable, and so on. So I always thought that the selling point that it could be done at a percent less than it cost the state to care for an inmate was absolutely skewed data.
One of their prime conceptions was to hire employees at the lowest possible wage level. I thought that meant there was not as careful a pick of who was going to work in the system. And my observation, going into the prisons, was that was political. And that meant, therefore, that the discipline, the behavior, the control within the privates were not up to the standards they should have been.
Q: You backed a bill last session to allow non-violent, drug-addicted inmates to move from prison to treatment programs after serving half their time. Why did it fail?
McDONOUGH: I continue to see some well-respected law enforcement officials arguing that any questioning of [current sentencing guidelines] proves there's a lack of understanding of the seriousness of crime. I think that's nonsense.
The Legislature, which is largely Republican, passed it. Not only did they pass it, it passed with overwhelming numbers. So there you had a good idea, a good bill, tremendous political support. And then you had shrill voices saying, "Oh, no, no, no...We shouldn't do this, because it'll be weak on crime."
And lo and behold, the governor vetoed it. It was an unbelievable instance of a lost opportunity, of playing to this over-inflated, get-tough-on-crime mystique.
Q: But hasn't the crime rate been going down? Doesn't that suggest getting tougher works?
McDONOUGH: Yes, when you get tougher on crime and you get a very violent criminal who's on a crime spree and can't change his behavior, incarcerating that guy and keeping him a long time does have an effect on public safety. I'm all for that.
But it's like a pendulum swinging. If you go too far, it's going to crash back of its own weight. The crash-back we have seen, by incorporating everybody into these policies and laws that lead to more time in prison.
It's just too expensive. You have caught up in this pendulum swing a lot of people who would not be doing damage on the outside, and who – with a little bit of money invested in their rehabilitation – would probably do quite well.
Q: Florida was just cited for a 166 percent increase in the average sentence between 1990 and 2009 – the most of any state. Other states have dialed back their sentences. Why not Florida?
McDONOUGH: Other states that are conservative in their political structure, like Texas, actually have gone the other way. They've really flattened out their prison growth. They've saved hundreds of millions of dollars on prison construction, and they have seen crime decrease.
So the examples are out there. Florida is sort of a holdout, on an idea that has seen its day, served a purpose for a bit, but now has gone too far. I'd like to see Florida come into the modern age a bit, and come up with smart justice approaches.