ATLANTA,None - Georgia companies and job seekers are struggling in a weak economy, but one company in Georgia has a free labor force. The company, Georgia Correctional Industries, is tied to the Georgia department of corrections and is made up of inmate volunteers who work for free.
Under Georgia law, if state agencies need certain products GCI makes they have to buy them from GCI, and because GCI has a free labor force it can underbid private companies for government contracts in Georgia and across the country.
GCI said its main mission is to give inmates the “real-world” job skills they’ll need to find work when they get out.
Channel 2 investigative reporter Aaron Diamant searched five years of GCI records and looked at the inmates who are selected for the program. Diamant found GCI trained more than 700 state prisoners serving life sentences including 48 prisoners sentenced to life without parole.
One of those prisoners is Samuel David Crowe, who shot his victim then beat him with a can of paint and a crow bar. He was sentenced to death but two months after his sentence was commuted, he started making eyeglass lenses at Hays State prison in North Georgia.
Georgia Chair sells furniture to some school systems across Georgia, but it doesn’t even try to win contracts at the university level because of competition from GCI. Georgia Chair has been around for a century but when the recession started, the family business had to lay off half of its staff.
“It hurts. It’s hard to let somebody go that’s been with you for 10 or 12 years,” said owner Harry Bagwell.
“What we’re doing with this program, very clearly, is taking jobs out of the private sector”, said former lawmaker Kevin Levitas. Levitas is a long-time critic of GCI.
“The government should either be out of the way, or at a minimum, aiding businesses, not competing against them,” said Levitas.
“It would be funny if it weren’t so ridiculous that we’re training people for jobs that they’re unlikely to ever even have the opportunity to apply for, much less get,” Levitas said.
Diamant tried for weeks to get an interview with someone from GCI but the organization declined.
GCI said it is not costing taxpayers any money because the items sold pay for supervisors, guards and sales people.
Diamant reviewed GCI’s finances and found the company has been operating in the red since 2003. To date, the shortfall has been covered by dipping into GCI’s reserve fund.