Factories that employ convicted felons are at the heart of a simmering debate about whether prisons should be siphoning away jobs — at much lower wages — that could be filled by those who need them during the nation's toughest period of unemployment in decades.
Congressional Republicans, a handful of Democrats and private-industry critics want to clamp down on Unicor. That is the trade name of Federal Prison Industries. Almost 13,000 inmates work in federal lockups for a few dollars a day, making everything from military uniforms to office furniture.
Critics say Unicor undercuts private companies because of lower operating costs and laws that require federal agencies to use inmate-produced products when able.
Corrections officials say the program teaches prisoners invaluable job skills and personal discipline that cuts down on their return to prison.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.