From the Chicago Reporter:
Most people see a jail and think about crime, tragedy and heartbreak.
Others see dollar signs. That’s because incarceration can be a big money maker.
Consider the drab polyester and cotton scrubs worn by detainees and inmates at Cook County Jail, where about 100,000 people are booked annually. (At County, the men wear tan and the women wear blue, not the more infamous orange.)
In 2012, Ohio-based company Pyramid Enterprise Supplies, a minority-owned business that also provides Smith and Wesson handcuffs and leg locks to the jail, won a two-year, almost $1.7 million county contract to provide the Cook County Department of Corrections with clothes, undergarments and accessories. Jail executive director Cara Smith said the county activated the first of three renewal options for the contract last fall at an additional cost of about $340,000.
The original contract included more than 50,000 inmate uniforms, totaling about $600,000.
- The uniforms were manufactured by Gardena, Calif.-based Robinson Textiles—a company whose alleged ties to sweatshop labor in the Dominican Republic ran afoul of San Francisco officials in 2012.Alleged violations included problems with worker health and safety, wages and sexual harassment.
- When Robinson Textiles shut down in 2014, the Bob Barker Company agreed to fulfill Robinson Textiles’ contract obligations. Those obligations now include supplying Pyramid with uniforms for Cook County inmates.
- In 2008, the Bob Barker Co., a family-owned business based in Fuquay-Varina, N.C., also was accused of using sweatshop labor. The allegations stem from work at a Bangladesh factory that supplied the company with inmate undergarments. Workers allegedly complained they were beaten for making mistakes or refusing shifts, forced to work strenuous 18-hour shifts or work overtime if they fell short of hard-to-meet production targets.
- Touted as the nation’s premier detention supplies provider, the company has won other contracts tosupply inmate shoes, juvenile detention uniforms and mattresses. Records show Bob Barker Co. has been awarded at least $13 million in federal prison system contracts since 1995, including agreements with about 100 federal prisons across the country.
- In 2009, Bob Barker Co., which has nothing to do with the popular TV game show host, founded a nonprofit foundation to help fund programs focused on reducing the number of incarcerated people who return to jail.
Read the entire article on the Chicago Reporter
Photo: Sophia Nahli Allison