This is sort of an odd topic to have on my mind, but I was thinking about it today in the context of a bid package I have in my hands for concession management of a park in Georgia.
The RFP kept referring to "community workers" who do 60% of the labor in the park, and part of our responsibilities included managing these workers. In my naivete, I thought these were volunteers, and sent a note telling them that while the government could legally use volunteers, it was very problematic under labor laws for a private company to benefit in any way from volunteer labor.
I was quickly informed that I had it all wrong, that this was a euphemism for "prisoners," and that I could take advantage of their close to fee labor to do much of the heavy lifting in the park maintenance.
I must confess this is a new one for me but my initial reaction is queasiness about it. On the one hand, we are talking about unpaid labor from men in involuntary servitude -- do I really feel good about benefiting economically from this work? On the other hand, I do understand that work programs can be beneficial for prisoners, though I am not sure the work we need is really going to be teaching many skills. On the gripping hand, there is "Cool Hand Luke", which is impossible to get out of my head when considering prison labor in the deep south.
One other aspect of the RFP that struck me cold was the pages and pages of requirements, including an actual oath I have to take, that I will do everything possible not to hire an illegal immigrant. Now, that sort of thing is likely required of them by state law, and is not that unusual (Arizona has similar provisions, I believe). But juxtaposed with the prison labor, it leaves me cold. Essentially, they won't allow me to accept the voluntary labor of a Mexican man paid at minimum wage, but they are encouraging me to accept the involuntary labor for free from a group of prisoners.
I just encountered this about 10 minutes ago so I am still thinking on it -- the basic opportunity is attractive. But I have walked away from opportunities before over these sorts of ethical issues -- most recently, over a refusal to drug test employees when that was a state requirement.
I welcome thoughts in the comments (I know I mentioned immigration, but in this one post I would be thrilled if we could lay off my supposed naivete on immigration and focus on the ethics of profiting from free prison labor).