New York Enforces Inmate Labor

* There's no free lunch in New York State prisons. The department of corrections now enforces one of the nation's toughest mandatory work policies, one that is not so much a get-tough-on-crime policy as it is a get-tough-on-the-cost-of-incarcerating-criminals policy.

The new work rules, phased in during the last year, require that healthy capable inmates work in the state's prison industries. Inmates who refuse are locked in their cells for 23 hours a day and allowed out only for an hour of exercise. Even meals are served in an inmate's cell.

In addition to detention in their cells, the mandatory work rules have teeth because inmates know that if they refuse to work, prison officials will file a recommendation of denial at their parole hearing. State legislation requires not only that an administrative recommendation accompany all requests for parole, but that it count 80 percent toward a grant of parole. Younger inmates who refuse to take remedial and vocational education courses are likewise blackballed by prison officials at parole hearing s.

Though some type of inmate labor inside prison walls is widespread in the United States (the practice is common and mandatory in Southern and rural states), a number of states in the Northeast besides New York - New Jersey, Connecticut most recently - have taken a tougher mandatory approach. They have done so for three reasons, according to correction officials:

* To make inmates defer part of the cost of their $25,000-a-year incarceration.

* To rehabilitate inmates by preparing them more effectively to hold a job after their release.

* To counter the negative "Holiday Inn: inmage held by the public that prisons have become too easy on inmates.

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