08/02/2009 08:03 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Put our Captive Workforce to Work!

The prison industry in the United States bothers me. Prison and industry in the same sentence is oxymoronic, emphasis on moronic. There is no industry in prisons, or little useful industry. I seem to recall a myth about prisoners making license plates, but I can't find any evidence of it today. Why do we not use this captive population for good works?

The United States boasts 2.3 million persons in our prison system. One in 100 people in our country is in prison. The average cost per prisoner per year is $20,108. My calculator couldn't even figure the annual total.

There are three levels of prisons: maximum, medium and minimum. The statistics on recidivism are an embarrassment. Why aren't we putting these citizens to work?

One of the major complaints about greening our economy is the cost of doing so. What if we were to retool our medium and minimum security prisons into green factories? It would cost money to begin it, but it would also instantly decrease the cost of greening our economy because there would be no labor costs. That's right, free labor.

These citizens who have transgressed against society should be put to work to aid the very same society they transgressed. Why can't prisoners make solar panels? Turbines for wind power? Green building materials?

It could be made into an incentive program for prisoners as well. I suggest that for every full day worked without incident, a prisoner could earn two days off his or her sentence. Not only would these citizens be rehabilitated, but they would be trained to become useful, participating members of society.

The equation is simple: labor for time.

To those who object to this proposal on the grounds that these outcasts do not deserve such training, I ask ... why not? What purpose is their time in prison serving?

I know they're supposed to be contemplating their crimes against society, but if you've ever even skimmed your television remote over any of the various lockdown programs, you know that prisons become a society of violence within themselves. There is jockeying for position. There are frightening power plays. There is cruelty between prisoners, and between prisoners and guards.

This is what happens when there is no purpose to a life. It creates a spiritual vacuum, and nature, as we know, abhors a vacuum. To give purpose to these incarcerated lives is to potentially transform these lives into productive ones.

All new ideas seem naïve at their beginnings. Not long ago, no one thought the Internet would have an effect on society. I rest my case right there.

It is our spiritual duty to see that every life counts. Every life, no exceptions. I've just made one suggestion. Put the captive workforce to work.

Got a better idea? Good. Let's hear it.

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