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Kentucky's Republican Senator Mitch McConnell intervened when he heard from several companies in his district that wanted to stop Federal Prison Industries (FPI) from taking jobs from proud citizens of Kentucky and giving them to prisoners. FPI is a wholly owned government corporations established by Congress in 1934 as a way to employ and provide job skills training to inmates. While it seemed like a good idea in 1934 when there were 13,000 federal prisoners, it is not such a good idea today when there are over 217,000 inmates. Now it seems that prisoners are taking jobs from the general public at a time when jobs are hard to come by.
Campbellsville Apparel Company, in Kentucky, contacted Senator McConnell to let him know that FPI was about to bid for a T-shirt contract for U.S. soldiers. Inmate wages are substantially lower than those of prevailing manufacturing jobs, thereby putting the small apparel company at a disadvantage. A U.S. Senator does not routinely get in the middle of awards for government contracts, but they sure can make life miserable to those who are in the process. To help out his constituents, Senator McConnell proposed legislation on March 8, 2012 that would require the Director of the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) be appointed by the President with the consent of the the Senate. Currently, the Director of the BOP is appointed by the U.S. Attorney General from within the executive branch and is largely insulated from congressional accountability. The other Kentucky Senator, Rand Paul (Republican) also joined in with McConnell. This approach would give the Senate more say in how the BOP is run, including how it awards contracts.
Well on March 12, the BOP blinked and said that they would not be competing for the t-shirt business. McConnell issued a statement saying, "Federal Industries did the right think in backing away from their plan to take away jobs from hard-working Kentucky taxpayers and giving them to convicts." Notice he said, "taxpayers" and not constituents. A funny thing about constituents is that the inmates in the Kentucky prison that wanted to bid on the contract are counted in the U.S. census as citizens of the state of Kentucky, no matter where they are from. So those inmates, whether they love McConnell or not, are not only represented by Senator McConnell, they are also a part of the equation that determines federal dollars for schools, infrastructure and other government projects. It hardly seems fair, but this is not about "fair" it's about jobs.
Kentucky's motto is "United we stand, divided we fall".... inmates not included.