Victims' Rights Caucus

Speeches

 

Mr. Speaker, behind the thick walls of some Federal prisons, inmates are being put to work. Not on chain gangs tarring roads and hacking rocks, but in prison factories.

Private industries are bringing their businesses behind the barbed wire fortresses, realizing the benefits of incarcerated inmates going to work. Prison industries are operated to achieve two goals: First, they occupy the prisoners' time to keep them busy and out of trouble. The second goal is to provide those incarcerated inmates a trade and valuable work experience, a trade and experience that can be applied to the American workforce once they leave the penitentiary. Prison industries give an inmate a sense of accomplishment and achievement, and the ability to have a chance to work and live as a law-abiding citizen beyond the prison walls.

In the Federal prison system, UNICOR, the Federal Prison Industries, Incorporated, contracts out to the Federal Bureau of Prisons and hires inmates to work behind those tall prison walls. The inmates earn 35 cents to $1.15 an hour. Now, Mr. Speaker, this money is paid by private industries, not taxpayers.

And, here is the best part: The money that the inmates earn goes to, first, pay their fine; second, partial restitution to the victim through the Victims of Crime Act; and, third, the rest goes into a savings account that the inmate will get once they leave the penitentiary. This way, the prisoner literally earns his keep in the big house. He helps pay for the system he has created, relieving the taxpayers of this burden.

I have had the opportunity to tour one of these prison units in Beaumont, Texas, at the Beaumont Federal Correctional Complex in my congressional district. In the Beaumont Federal prison system, prison inmates craft state-of-the-art military helmets for our troops fighting in Iraq. I have one of those helmets right here with me, Mr. Speaker.

This is officially called by the Federal Government the ``personal armor for ground troops helmet.'' I just call it a helmet. It is used by our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is made of Kevlar, and it provides our warriors protection from shrapnel and bullets. These helmets have been credited with saving several of our troops' lives in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Mr. Speaker, each month the inmates at the Beaumont Prison produce 30,000 of these helmets; 360,000 of them a year are being provided for our military. The Beaumont Prison factory also has the distinction of being the only UNICOR factory that produces these helmets. Currently, the prison is designing a more protective helmet that will soon be used in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The 320 inmates in the Beaumont factory making these helmets are patriots, and they think they are because they are patriots; they are doing their part in the war efforts. This is a medium security facility, and it is not the only war contributor in the Beaumont prison system.

The minimum security system in Beaumont repairs damaged tanks. They receive a facelift from the inmates and their engines are overhauled. The mechanics that work in these prisons are experts in diesel mechanics, and they take a once unusable piece of machinery that has been damaged and they turn it into a war-worthy military tank once more.

Mr. Speaker, as a former judge, I believe in using inmate labor; make them help pay for the system they have created. The taxpayer has paid for the system long enough. Some of these inmates in the Beaumont prison I met earlier on a professional basis at the courthouse, and now I am glad to see that they are turning their lives around. For behind the steel doors and tall walls of the prison, these men go to work each day producing helmets that safeguard American troops from enemy fire. They are not forced to work in the factories, but they choose to. They choose to volunteer.

The inmates I talked to are proud of our troops overseas and feel a se