Bloomberg axes company using prisoners for campaign calls

Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg walks into the crowd of supporters and volunteers to speak to them and take photos after speaking in Philadelphia on Saturday.

Recently the campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination of former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg was assailed for allowing some of its call-center work to be outsourced to prison inmates through a Vineland company.

Bloomberg quickly caved under the criticism, saying he hadn’t known it was being done and if he had, it wouldn’t have been. “We do not support this practice,” he said. “We immediately ended our relationship with the company and the people who hired them.”

But why?

What exactly is wrong with letting the best-behaving inmates do some work, gain some skills and make a little money while serving their debt to society? The goal, after all, is to prepare as many of them as possible to re-enter society and lead lawful, productive lives. A call-center job is one they could reasonably pursue as soon as they’re released.

The attacks on the Bloomberg campaign just assumed it was a bad idea and embarrassing, but offered no reasons or even suggestions why.

Probably many thought multi-billionaire Bloomberg shouldn’t be paying the notoriously low wages that are available to working inmates.

They are indeed low. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, prisoners typically earn pennies per hour and the average maximum daily wage for them is $3.45.

But that wasn’t the case here.

ProCom, located on Delsea Drive in Vineland, was paying inmates $7.25 an hour to work the call center for the Bloomberg campaign — 17 times as much as the average maximum pay for prison workers elsewhere.

ProCom’s workers at the minimum-security women’s prison in Oklahoma surely were crushed when this opportunity was thoughtlessly taken from them.

It’s not as if there’s anything unusual or problematic about inmates doing call-center work.

The federal government has been employing inmates at federal prisons for more than 80 years through its Federal Prison Industries, now branded Unicor.

Unicor promotes its prison call-center work as a better alternative to sending such work overseas — avoiding language barriers, exchange rates and time-zone differences. “Imagine … all the benefits of domestic outsourcing at offshore prices. It’s the best-kept secret in outsourcing!” gushes this U.S. government corporation. “When you work with Unicor, your company is providing valuable job skills to federal inmates while it repatriates jobs back from overseas. It is truly a ‘win-win’ relationship for all involved.”

Too bad no one from Unicor spoke up in favor of the campaign call-center work for inmates.

New Jersey political leaders should have defended the work of the Vineland business. The state spends millions supporting ex-convict re-entry programs. Last month, Gov. Phil Murphy signed legislation making it easier to expunge criminal records, “which will allow more New Jerseyans the opportunity to fully engage in our society.” And last week, the state Senate approved making graduates of court drug recovery programs eligible for upper-level Atlantic City casino jobs.

Sure, Bloomberg could easily afford to pay a private call center whatever to work the campaign’s phones to California.

But it was a nice gesture that one of the world’s richest people instead used the work to help give some unfortunate people a second chance. At least while it lasted.

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