Several of the officials charged with regulating Texas’s prison labor program, wherein thousands of workers behind bars are compelled to produce goods and provide services for free, are connected to some of the richest and most powerful institutions and people in the state.
The Texas Board of Criminal Justice, which oversees Texas Correctional Industries (TCI), the prison industry division within the state’s Department of Criminal Justice, has authority over how much compensation inmates working for the state receive for their labor. Currently, inmates working for TCI are not paid for the work done while serving their time; the only inmates who are paid anything are the small fraction who are employed by TCI’s private sector prison industries program.
TCI factories are spread throughout 37 prison facilities across the state, and their workers manufacture everything from wooden state signs, various garments including police utility vests, and bedding, to soap, steel kitchenware, and even “the most up-to-date ergonomically designed office [furniture] available.” They also provide services such as school bus and computer refurbishing. Total sales for TCI were valued at $88.9 million in FY 2014. TCI also makes products used within the prison system, including inmate garments.