“The privatized prison system benefits prison-building corporations, the companies who facilitate the expensive phone services and the manufacturers of commissary goods — but it also greatly benefits companies who “employ” prisoners to boost their bottom line. UNICOR, for example, “employs” more than 3,000 prisoners starting at 23 cents an hour manufacturing electronic equipment, most of which is for the Department of Defense. UNICOR made over $900 million in revenue last year. In Danbury, Kerman writes, the FCI inmates worked in a UNICOR warehouse making military radio components for a dollar an hour. In Danbury, inmates needed a GED to earn over 14 cents an hour, and a GED program was offered within the prison.
The facilitation and purpose of “work assignments” varies widely from institution to institution — some claim work assignments will give you valuable skills for the real world, others aim to keep the institution going on the cheap, most serve to simply keep inmates busy during the day, and many are essentially a legal form of slave labor.
The show and the memoir are consistent with their portrayal of the work program at Danbury, from the toxic mold preventing Piper from doing the education program to her eventual assignment of electrical.