Illegal Aliens Awaiting Deportation Got Preferred Jobs in U.S. Prisons

By Susan Jones | September 25, 2013 | 8:57am EDT

Although Federal Prison Industries operates in a business environment, it is primarily a correctional program to prepare inmates for release by helping them acquire job skills and to reduce idle time while in prison. (AP File Photo)

( - Federal Prison Industries (FPI), the government-owned corporation that operates factories in federal prisons, employed 37 inmates as of June 2012 who had been issued final deportation orders and were therefore ineligible for FPI employment.

Although those 37 illegal alien inmates represented less than one percent of Federal Prison Industries’ total inmate employees, the audit shows a "weakness in FPI's internal controls," says a recent report from the Justice Department's Office of Inspector General (OIG).

"We found that FPI’s internal controls did not ensure that aliens who were ordered deported were removed from FPI employment as required," the report said.

Federal Prison Industries says once the matter came to its attention, it immediately removed 35 of the 37 deportable inmates from FPI employment. Of the remaining two inmates, one claimed he had been misidentified, and one had already stopped working at FPI.

Of the 12,394 inmates FPI employed as of June 2012, 1,580 (approximately 13 percent) were not U.S. citizens, but only 37 had received final deportation orders, which should have precluded them from holding FPI jobs.

The OIG report noted that federal regulations prohibit FPI from employing any inmate who is currently under an order of deportation, exclusion, or removal. Those inmates must be re-assigned to a non-FPI work assignment. (All sentenced federal inmates are required to work in some capacity, but not all inmates are employed by FPI.)

Although FPI operates in a business environment, it is primarily a correctional program to prepare inmates for release by helping them acquire job skills and to reduce idle time while in prison.

FPI jobs are in high demand because they offer higher wages than other prison work assignments, ranging from $0.23 to $1.15 an hour, the audit said. Inmates apply for FPI jobs on a voluntary basis and are placed on waiting lists in the order their applications are received.

As of June 2012, FPI operated 83 factories staffed by inmates at federal correctional institutions throughout the United States. FPI inmates produce a variety of products and services, including office furniture; military apparel; communications equipment; vehicle repair and retrofitting; cabinets, lockers and shelving; electronics recycling; and they also staff call centers.

FPI’s mission is to employ and provide job skills training to the greatest practicable number of inmates confined within the Bureau of Prisons, but the audit found that it is not meetings its goals:

For example, the audit found that FPI employed only 12,394 in June 2012, just 7 percent of the eligible inmate population and its lowest inmate employment in over 25 years.  (To have met its 25 percent employment goal for June 2012, FPI would have needed to provide work for over 44,000 inmates.)

Because FPI does not receive direct taxpayer funding, it must generate operating revenue to remain a self-sustaining program.

But here again, there are problems: The audit said Federal Prison Industries has struggled financially in recent years, reporting average net losses of $31 million annually from fiscal year 2009-2012 on average net sales of $753 million.

FPI said a combination of factors had contributed to its recent financial struggles. Among them are policies designed to reduce FPI’s impact on the private sector; the wind-down of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (the Defense Department is FPI’s biggest customer); the economic downturn; and losses in key product lines.

The Justice Department Office of the Inspector General says it conducted the audit to determine what factors have led to the significant reduction of inmate work within FPI, and FPI’s plans to maintain and create work opportunities for inmates. Illegal aliens were not the focus of the audit.

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