Behind Bars: Doing Press Time
When the metal doors lock behind you, and you step into the wind-swept courtyard, edged with guard towers and razor wire, you know you're in prison.
Heavily tattooed men with matted ponytails leap and shuffle on the basketball court, shooting curious glances as you pass.
Others play handball or work out with weights, all of them eyeing you, sizing you up. Overhead, guards in sunglasses stare down from their towers with stoic faces, their rifles ready.
No false moves are advised.
But once you pass through a door marked Silver State Industries, the unsettling world of prison life slips away, replaced by the pulsing energy of a print shop—an oasis of normalcy in a tight-security zone.
Here, in the middle of the Nevada State Prison in Carson City sits a 21-employee in-plant. Like in-plants everywhere, the shop has a collection of presses and bindery gear, and is run by a staff of busy, quality-conscious employees. But there's one major difference: this staff can't go home at day's end.
"You've got to always remember that there's a 'fence', per se. You're on one side and they're on the other side," remarks Supervisor Jim Padgett, the shop's only civilian employee. "And you still have to maintain a working atmosphere."
Such is the dilemma of prison in-plant managers. Theirs is a world where simple tasks like giving an employee a screwdriver must be strictly regulated; where a skilled worker can be transferred without notice; where many employees have no prior work experience. Despite all this, managers have to carry on.
"I try to look at it as a business," says Padgett. "I try to treat these individuals as employees."
Not Just License Plates Anymore
Prisons all over the country operate print shops—along with facilities for making furniture, computers and—of course—license plates. The major reasons for these shops are to prevent idleness and to teach job skills, while saving the prison money.
Managers of these in-plants, always civilians, say the shops are effective in promoting good behavior among inmates.
"For them it's a privilege to get to work," remarks Marvin Shimabukuro, project manager of Correctional Industries at the Halawa Correctional Facility, in Aiea, Hawaii. "They don't want to mess it up."
In prison, a job provides not only a little spending money (about 30 cents an hour to start), but gives an inmate a purpose amidst the monotony of prison life. In the in-plant he can forget he's a prisoner. One fight and he might lose that privilege.
"The inmates say, when they're working here, it doesn't even seem like a prison," comments Charles Wagner, site manager at the 48-employee Juniper Valley Print Shop, in Canon City, Colo., part of the Centennial Correctional Facility. "It is a very relaxed atmosphere in the shop."
Still, differences abound. For instance, you won't see tools or chemicals lying around in a prison in-plant.
"Tools are kept locked up, and are issued and returned on a one-on-one basis," explains Padgett, of Nevada.
Then there are the unannounced shakedowns when both inmates and the computers they use are checked. Clock out time is also frequently body search time.
But infractions, managers insist, are rare. For one thing, managers prescreen job applicants to keep out those likely to cause trouble—or use the equipment to commit crimes.
"I don't hire any forgers or counterfeiters, for obvious reasons," notes Padgett.
Also, inmates don't want to risk losing their jobs by stealing from the shop. At Juniper Valley, Wagner says, inmates can't leave until every tool is accounted for.
"If they do misplace one, they're looking for it pretty hard," he says.
At many prison in-plants, overtime is not allowed, for security reasons.
"As it gets dark outside, the inmates have to go in," explains Robert Thomas, superintendent of the 44-employee Prison Industries Print Shop at California State Prison, in Sacramento. "We are locked into our hours. If we get a load of work in, we can't work a second shift to get it out."
There are also days, he notes, when inmates aren't allowed to come to work until the morning fog lifts.
Lockdown: No One Works
Perhaps the most frustrating situation for any prison in-plant manager, though, is the lockdown.
"If there's a major altercation on the yard, it's quite possible the institution may lock down," says Thomas. This means inmates cannot leave their cells. Last year, he says, one lockdown lasted three months. The shop's five civilian managers went to work on the presses, and many of the jobs were farmed out.
"We have to be aware that that can happen, and we have to build in a little bit of time in our scheduling to allow for the possibility," Thomas notes.
Another issue that hits prison in-plant managers hard is the loss of their best workers to a prison transfer.
"Inmates are moved throughout the system for custodial reasons," explains Thomas. "A guy we may have put two years of effort into training, all of a sudden, boom, the next day he's gone, and we've got to start from scratch again."
At Halawa Correctional Facility, in Hawaii, a large number of inmates are being transferred to a prison in Texas, Shimabukuro says. And what types of inmates are being targeted? Those holding down prison jobs, of course.
"They wiped out about 90 percent [of my staff]," reveals Shimabukuro. He figures he'll lose the rest of his veterans by year's end. "They're looking for the 'model' inmate," he says—and stripping him of his experienced workers in the process. "We're in a constant training mode. It's not like we train somebody and we're set for life."
"If you told a print shop on the street they'd probably have about 130 percent turnover, and their staff, when you first got them, would probably not have any experience—and on average they'd probably have about an eighth-grade education—they'd probably all just shut the door and lock it," notes Don Lincoln, superintendent of Cornhusker State Industries, part of the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services. "And that's what we're working with."
Still, some managers feel inmates, despite their lower education level, are quicker learners.
"The inmates probably learn this job faster than people on the outside because it's all they've got," says Wagner, Juniper Valley's manager.
One of the oddities about managing a prison print shop is that managers know they are working with murderers, thieves, rapists and other felons—a potentially intimidating situation. But managers say they don't let it get to them. They treat inmates with respect and expect the same in return.
"We walk through bunches of inmates daily. We don't think a thing about it," remarks Wagner. "We're never really in fear for our safety." Just in case, though, he carries a personal stress alarm to alert guards if there's a problem.
Mostly, though, managers rely on the workload to distract workers from causing trouble.
"If you're busy and you're productive, it helps, as far as the safety factor," remarks Padgett, of Nevada, a former correctional officer. There are no security officers present in most of the print shops IPG interviewed. Managers rely on beepers and their own good sense. Just the Halawa facility in Hawaii has security on hand when it goes on a 24-hour work schedule during tax season.
Getting new equipment is not easy for prison in-plants. They can only spend from their own profits. Most shops use older offset equipment from A.B.Dick, Hamada, Heidelberg, Multigraphics or Ryobi—and much of this has been donated. The Halawa facility in Hawaii, however, has a digital focus. Its gear includes three DocuTechs, two Xerox 4135s and a DocuColor 40—all leased. Shimabukuro is looking into a Xerox DocuColor 70, as well.
"With the digital, it's a matter of pushing a button," he explains. Training is, therefore, less of an issue. "I save the taxpayers about $400,000 annually" using digital equipment.
Shimabukuro is in a unique position among prison in-plant managers.
"We don't have a state printer here in Hawaii," he explains. "We act on behalf of the state printer."
Up until last November, all state agencies were mandated to use his 50-employee shop's services. That has since been rescinded, but many customers keep coming back. Some of the shop's eight civilian managers now call on customers to solicit business.
Shimabukuro's shop, like most prison in-plants, is self-supporting, which means it has to watch costs and make a profit. This profit pays for equipment, among other things. Therefore, it's crucial that work gets completed on time and with attention to quality. To motivate workers, some shops, like Juniper Valley, offer a monthly bonus if all jobs are done on time.
Though prison print shops may save the prison money through such timely, convenient service, their main goal is still to provide inmates with a work skill. Managers try to keep this in mind.
"Printing is a viable trade on the streets," remarks Thomas, of California. "We afford them hands-on training with fairly relevant equipment."
Plus, he adds, "Even if they decide not to go into printing when they get out, they've learned a work ethic"—an ethic that will, hopefully, keep them from coming back.
Related story: Prisoners At The Presses
Bob has served as editor of In-plant Impressions since October of 1994. Prior to that he served for three years as managing editor of Printing Impressions, a commercial printing publication. Mr. Neubauer is very active in the U.S. in-plant industry. He attends all the major in-plant conferences and has visited more than 170 in-plant operations around the world. He has given presentations to numerous in-plant groups in the U.S., Canada and Australia, including the Association of College and University Printers and the In-plant Printing and Mailing Association. He also coordinates the annual In-Print contest, co-sponsored by IPMA and In-plant Impressions.