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Federal Penitentiary in West Virginia Provides Re-Shoring Training for Inmates

Unicor was established in 1934 to provide meaningful work for inmates and support low cost manufacturing for the US Government.

By ·
By ·

Last week I went to the Federal Correctional Facility in Gilmer, West Virginia (just for a tour – I had no desire to stay!)  I made the trip there to tour the Federal Prison Industries otherwise known as Unicor (http://www.Unicor.gov ).

I’ll admit, entering though the metal detectors and several locked prison gates and doors and into the prison yard where inmates were assembling for lunch, was a bit unnerving.  Gilmer is a medium-high security facility and the inmates looked scary. I was intimidated. I appeared to be the only woman around. My tour guide explained the various buildings and services available while we stood in the prison yard, before entering the factory.  It was the lunch hour so the factory was empty and I was relieved to finally go inside with my guide.

Unicor was established in 1934 to provide meaningful work for inmates and support low cost manufacturing for the US Government. Originally prisoners made military uniforms and equipment, license plates and other items.  But over time, Unicor developed capabilities in many industries including metal fabrication and machining, electrical devices, printing, automotive, textiles, solar energy, plastics and more. 

Although Unicor is not permitted to compete with established American industries they are allowed to accept Reshored production.  The 13,000+ prisoners earn between $.23 - $1.25 per hour - labor rates that are competitive with the lowest cost countries around the world.

Now we, are talking!  One of the biggest hurdles to Reshoring is labor costs in the US and Unicor’s rates neutralize this issue.  So it was with great interest that I toured the West Virginia facility with an eye toward what Reshored production might fit into one of Unicor’s 78 American prison factories. The Reshoring Institute already has several companies interested in Unicor production.

This particular factory was focused on automotive production and indeed, they were working on several military vehicle conversions and refurbishing a truck trailer.  The factory was clean, organized and impressive.  Unicor factories practice Lean manufacturing techniques, are ISO certified and are focused on high-quality results.

The inmates get an opportunity to do productive work and learn new skills that are transferrable to the outside world.  The recidivism rate for former Unicor employees is about 20% less than other released prisoners.

For all these reasons, Unicor is an interesting alternative to offshore manufacturing.

 


About the Author

Rosemary Coates
Ms. Coates is the Executive Director of the Reshoring Institute and the President of Blue Silk Consulting, a Global Supply Chain consulting firm. She is a best-selling author of: 42 Rules for Sourcing and Manufacturing in China and Legal Blacksmith - How to Avoid and Defend Supply Chain Disputes. Ms. Coates lives in Silicon Valley and has worked with over 80 clients worldwide. She is also an Expert Witness for legal cases involving global supply chain matters. She is passionate about Reshoring.

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Article Topics

Labor · Manufacturing · Reshoring · All Topics
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