At least one state jail is going to start to smelling better. Out of necessity.
In a bid to address a shortage of hand sanitizer attributable to the novel coronavirus,
Governor Cuomo announced March 9 that prisoners at Great Meadow Correctional Facility had begun packaging the lilac-accented stuff. About 100,000 gallons of the sanitizer will be churned out from the Washington County maximum-security facility each week, he said.
Mr. Cuomo, who cited price-gouging on hand sanitizer as among the “most egregious” issues related to the virus’s outbreak stateside, said the industrial-strength product would address supply scarcity. For roughly a week, people who have tried to buy sanitizer, which the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization have recommended as a preventative against the virus, have found empty displays.
“We’ll be providing this to government agencies, schools, the MTA, prisons, etcetera, because you can’t get on the market and when you get it, it’s very, very expensive,” the Governor said.
He said the Great Meadow product, dubbed simply NYD Clean and packaged in green and yellow, would contain 75 percent alcohol, or 15 percent more than brand-name sanitizers, such as Purell.
“It has a very nice floral bouquet,” he said, as he squeezed from a 7-ounce container.
Mr. Cuomo called the inmate-made sanitizer “a superior product” that costs a fraction of store-bought hand rub. The state’s cost for a one-gallon container is $6.10, and the 7-oz. bottle costing $1.12, he said. A smaller size costs the state 84 cents.
“So it’s much cheaper for us to make it ourselves than to buy it on the open market,” he said.
The sanitizer will be available for free to residents but distribution priorities will be according to those communities “most impacted” by the virus and those most at risk, according to a release timed to the Governor’s announcement. Those include the New Rochelle community, which has been the hardest hit by the virus. State agencies, including the MTA, also will get priority.
About 100 inmate workers are bottling and labeling the sanitizer, which is made by an outside vendor.
But several prisoner-advocate organizations denounced the state’s initiative for using inmates. According to the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, inmates are being paid anywhere from just 16 cents to 65 cents an hour to work for the Division of Correctional Industries, otherwise known as Corcraft, an entity that operates within the State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.
“We are disgusted at Governor Cuomo’s decision to exploit prison labor to push back the imminent public-health crisis presented by COVID-19 while doing absolutely nothing for incarcerated people across the state,” a joint statement from several of those organizations released by the city-based Release Aging People in Prison Campaign said. “The sacrifices made by people in prison to manufacture this product—at wages below $1 per hour—will be a significant factor in slowing down the spread of the outbreak.”
The statement rebuked the Governor for what the organizations said was his disregard for prisoners’ rights, including for refusing to consider “the vast majority of clemency petitions” and for blocking legislation that would curb the use of solitary confinement.
According to DOCCS, inmates contracted to Corcraft “earn among the highest wages in New York State facilities.” Some inmates have the potential to earn bonuses for hours worked or $1.30 an hour based on productivity, DOCCS said.
The release from the Governor’s Office stated Corcraft, which oversees the production of dozens of products within 14 of the state’s jails, including classroom desks, charcoal grills, crowd-control barriers and face soap, “uses the manufacturing process to assist in the department's overall mission to prepare offenders for release through skill development, work ethic, respect and responsibility.”
Corcraft had about $53 million in sales in the fiscal year ending last March, according to a report by the State Comptroller’s Office. Its revenue goes into the state’s general fund.
By law, its products can only be sold to public entities such as fire and police departments, courts, schools and universities, and charitable, not-for-profit organizations that receive tax dollars.
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