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Have you spoken to an inmate lately?  Well, you’d be wrong if you answered, “No.” If you’ve recently placed any calls to a call center for help, then more than likely, an inmate handled your phone call.

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The Unicor program is one of the feds best kept secrets.  While it benefits the public with its services, prisoners also benefit as well. The call centers, which cover both the private and public sectors, provides inmates with skills that they can use on the outside.

An MSNBC story adds that the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Bureau of Prisons will not divulge the names of the companies that utilize the Unicor service.  The prisoner-reform program does provide call center services for some of the “top-companies in America” in an effort to repatriate the jobs that have been outsourced here.

The transfer of day-to-day business functions to an external third-party service provider located outside of this country has been a point of contention for countless Americans.  This “outsourcing” has reduced corporate costs but has also eliminated many jobs here in the United States.

A Unicor fact sheet explains that the service of employing inmates has been around for 70 years, with the company touting their services as reliable, low-cost, and free for taxpayers.  Unicor also offers a commitment to security, which has raised the eyebrows of many critics of the program.

Unicor states the following regarding security issues:

UNICOR takes additional steps to insure that inmates can safely meet the security needs of any call center client. Inmates are not permitted to make calls to private citizens in their homes, and UNICOR carefully reviews potential inbound consumer call work to assure everyone involved that inmates will not have access to personal information. We will not accept any work if there is any question that we can meet all parties’ security concerns.

Still, there are some whose fears won’t be quelled by a guarantee that the inmates pose no threat.  If someone in New York calls the Department of Motor Vehicles, for example, they could quite possibly get an inmate from a nearby facility.  If a consumer knew that they could be chatting with an inmate while their personal information was being exchanged, such knowledge could have someone trembling in their boots.

The corrections department told MSNBC that callers aren’t told they’re talking with a state prisoner, and officials stressed that callers are protected, because no personal information is displayed to the prisoners — they don’t have access to computers.

Still, other critics are up in arms that such opportunities are being handed over to inmates rather than law-abiding citizens who really need the work. Companies most likely opt for inmates as workers because they pay a paltry sum: about 50 cents an hour.


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