Kentucky Correctional Industries
Since 1954, Kentucky Correctional Industries (KCI) has been harnessing the enormous workforce potential of the state’s prison population while preparing inmates for life after prison.
With operations spread across eight correctional facilities, KCI serves 15 industries with affordable, quality goods, including signage, mattresses, soap and clothing, though the organization is primarily focused on the production of metal and wood dormitory and office furniture.
“Typically we’re close to half the price and 10 times the quality,” says Fred Siegelman, executive director of KCI. On a recent project for the Georgetown Police Department’s new headquarters in Georgetown, Kentucky, KCI was able to construct evidence lockers at a sixth of the market cost, charging $3,200 instead of the $20,000 other vendors had quoted.
By using cheaper prison labor, Frankfort, Kentucky-based KCI can afford to use higher-quality base materials for its dorm and office furniture and pass the savings along to the customer. Opting for solid wood instead of pressed or particle board, Siegelman says the difference in quality over traditional budget-rate office furniture is noticeable.
“We’ve also got a lot of good, experienced people who do excellent work. It’s a win-win situation for everyone because we’re teaching these inmates a trade so when they get out, they can go get a job,” he says.
Inmates must have zero infractions over a six-month period to qualify for the program, and the results speak for themselves, with the recidivism rate dropping dramatically for those prisoners enrolled in the program. “Twelve percent of the prisoners who work for us reoffend, versus 88 percent for the inmates who don’t,” says Siegelman.
Pursuing new opportunities
In the last few years, KCI has branched out into a number of new industries, completing projects for some of the state’s most recognizable institutions. “We have anything from raising cattle and crops to making license plates or anything you can imagine out of wood or metal,” says Siegelman.
The organization recently launched a new line of furniture made out of recycled American hardwood. While it’s a time-intensive process to break used wood products into their component parts, the low materials cost allows KCI to offer competitive pricing. “It’s basically like something that you would see in recycling: taking wood, deplaning it and separating it into the proper species and size,” he says.
KCI has completed a number of dorm and office furniture products for University of Kentucky and University of Louisville, including building a desk for Louisville men’s basketball coach Rick Pitino.
“I went to see the purchasing director and let them know how much money we could save them. Since then, we’ve done a lot of work for University of Louisville, like a real nice custom desk for Coach Walz, the women’s basketball coach,” Siegelman says.
KCI has expanded its focus not only in manufactured goods, but also services. These include a printing division, responsible for printing all forms used by the state’s police officers, as well as new coupon and clothing divisions.
Working with consumer goods giant, Proctor & Gamble, KCI’s employees process coupons for retailers. “They all have to be sorted and then sent back to the company that created them, so we do that sorting for them” Siegelman says.
KCI has launched a similar service operation on the clothing side, retagging unsold clothes from retailers like Target or T.J. Maxx at lower prices for sale in discount shops. “We de-tag, re-tag, fold, pack and send them back for resale,” he says.
Giving inmates a sense of purpose
For Siegelman, the opportunities provided by KCI are both a vital part of the rehabilitation process and a road out of recidivism. “They love to work for us, in fact, some of them would probably do it for free if they don’t want to be out in the yard with all the drama,” he says. “They also learned that they have to be on time and of course a tired inmate is a good inmate because if they have to get up every day to go to work, it keeps them out of trouble.”
Having spent many years working in prisons across Kentucky, Siegelman has seen that the work ethic of a state prisoner can rival that of almost any worker on the outside. This experience has led the executive director to become an advocate for clearing records for some nonviolent offenders, which aids ex-cons in securing employment after release and thus reducing the overall rate of recidivism.
“If they paid the price and did their time, then you don’t want them to be penalized for the rest of their lives because they can’t get a job and end up back in prison costing the taxpayers roughly $23,000 a piece, minimum,” he says.
By allowing inmates to gain valuable experience, KCI not only aids in rehabilitation, but saves the state money as well. “Our system doesn’t cost the taxpayers a dime because we pay for everything — utilities, labor, facilities — with the revenue that we make,” Siegelman says.
With this innovative approach to rehabilitation in place, Kentucky Correction Industries will continue to maximize the potential of the state’s prison population while producing a range of quality goods and services.