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Congresswoman Maxine Waters

Representing the 43rd District of California

Federal Prison Industries Competition in Contracting Act of 2006

August 6, 2009
Floor Statement
Rep. Maxine Waters [D-CA]: Mr. Chairman, I rise in support of H.R. 2965, the Federal Prison Industries Competition in Contracting Act of 2005.

I thank my colleagues in the Committee on the Judiciary for their overwhelming support of the "sense of Congress" language I offered during Full Committee markup that would clarify the work-based program newly established in Section 17 of this legislation. As previously drafted, the "heart" of the wage provision of the work-based program was only an alternative to a scenario where the Secretary of Labor--at her discretion--would promulgate an inmate training wage. If the Secretary fails to do so within 180 days, she would be able to prescribe an interim training wage that is no less than 50% of the prevailing federal minimum wage--a provision that, in and of itself, is conditional.

I was elected to Congress in 1991, and I have continually stressed the importance of providing individuals, who have paid their debt to society, a realistic opportunity to transition from federal prison back into the community. The truth is that the current system, sets them up for failure. By turning them out on the street without a dime in their pocket many of the individuals who are fortunate enough to make it out of the system will start "in the red." Already faced with the pressing need to provide for food, shelter, and healthcare, with no money in their pockets they are left with few alternatives to pay for baby formula, HIV medication, a hot meal for one night, or even a place to stay.

For these reasons, during the 108th Congress, my language was accepted to establish a $2.50 minimum wage "floor" to eradicate the severe economic disparities created by the existing wage scale, which spans from $0.23 to a mere $1.15 per hour for inmates whose term of imprisonment will expire within 2 years. I thank my colleagues for retaining this important language, because it takes a good first step toward providing a realistic and livable economic base for individuals reentering the community from the federal system.

By and large, the individuals for whom I make my most passionate appeals are those who deserve a second chance--those who did not commit heinous and violent crimes and who have truly paid their debt to society. In the real world, individuals who reenter the community from incarceration already have families who depend upon them and they have no job waiting for them. To further exacerbate this situation, many employers will outright reject their application for a job once they discover that an applicant has a criminal record.

Nevertheless, the work-based program established in this bill makes a good effort to help these individuals by giving them a chance to earn an apprenticeship certificate to substantiate their work experience. In fact, the spirit of this program is consistent with the "Prisoner Re-entry Initiative" proposed by President Bush in his State of the Union Address when he called for a four-year, $300 million initiative to--and I quote--"reduce recidivism and the societal costs of reincarceration by helping inmates find work when they return to their communities."

Therefore, I support this legislation and ask that my colleagues vote yes on its final passage.