WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. prison factories, which sell office furniture and other goods to federal agencies, could face added restrictions on how they do business under new legislation.

U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) introduced The Federal Prisons Accountability Act of 2012 on March 7. The bill requires the Director of the Bureau of Prisons to be appointed by the President with approval by the Senate. Currently, the Director of BOP is appointed by the U.S. Attorney General from within the executive branch, insultating the office congressional accountability. The bill received support from Sen. Paul Rand (R-TX).

Prison factories come under fire for beating out private sector suppliers in winning government contracts. Federal Prison Industries, which sells under the brand Unicor, manufactures in a number of business segments, including mattresses, office chairs, desks and work tables to solar cells, metal beds, lockers, and electrical components. 

Though Unicor is already restricted from selling goods to consumer and business markets - they manufacture only government agencies - their captive employees are paid as little as 23 cents hourly. Current rules favor awarding Federal supply contracts to Unicor.

A House bill was introduced in December 2011 to further limit the scope of office furniture and other products that can be sold by Unicor. Sponsored by U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-MI), H.R. 3634 would minimize Unicor's “unfair competition” with private sector firms when competing for government contracts, eliminating its preferential status in bidding. It would impose federal work-safety standards and raise hourly wages to $2.50.

The issue is complicated for the wood products industries because some businesses supply components and raw materials to Unicor. Others, such as Nightingale, OEI and Humanscale have cooperative marketing arrangement for Unicor office furnishings and seating. Like large private business furnishings makers, Unicor exhibits at NeoCon, and promotes its sustainabile wood manufacturing processes.

Related story:

Rep. Bill Huizenga

Legislation Sets to Limit Prison Sales of Office Furniture
By Karen Koenig | Updated: 12/16/2011 11:00:00 AM
Legislation was introduced to further limit the scope of office furniture and other products that can be sold by Unicor, a government-owned corporation that employs federal prisoners. Read more

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