Governor Andrew Cuomo told reporters on Tuesday that he supports raising the low wages paid to incarcerated workers in New York State prisons.
The governor's office had created a contest to allow New Yorkers to vote on the new license plate design that will be rolled out this spring. Those license plates will be manufactured by prisoners working for Corcraft, which is the brand name for the Division of Correctional Industries, operated by the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS). Prisoners work for Corcraft for an average of 65 cents an hour, and manufacture everything from desks to soap to license plates, which are produced at the Auburn State Correctional Facility.
"I would support a wage increase for prisoners who work in our prisons," Cuomo said. The governor did not say whether he favors taking executive action to raise the wages, or if he supports a bill proposed earlier this year by Brooklyn State Senator Zellnor Myrie to raise the minimum wage for prisoners to $3/hour.
"I appreciate and welcome the support of the governor," Senator Myrie said on the Brian Lehrer Show on Wednesday morning, adding that he preferred that Cuomo work on a legislative fix instead of executive action "so that the wages of those incarcerated will not be dependent on who occupies the governor's mansion."
Myrie also called for more transparency at Corcraft, which employs around 2,100 prisoners across the state. State law requires state and municipal agencies to purchase goods from Corcraft because it is a "preferred" provider; New York City is the company's largest customer, and Corcraft sells around $50 million in goods each year. Profits made by Corcraft go back into the state's general fund.
"Incarcerated people are really the most vulnerable people in our society," Myrie said. "If we have one company in charge of their employment, they should be subject to greater scrutiny."
Lymus Rivera, who is currently a group facilitator at The Fortune Society, called into the show to talk about his experience working while he was incarcerated in New York State prisons. Rivera said he made as much as 42 cents an hour manufacturing goods for Corcraft, but earned 25 cents an hour doing group facilitating.
"Imagine if I had a little bit more [money] to sustain me when I get released," Rivera said of raising wages for prison laborers. "Coming out of prison is an emotional experience...You'd have a lot less stress and a lot less recidivism, and you'd have an opportunity to be more comfortable and more confident."
Rivera added that paying prison laborers better wages "sends a message that you're worth something."
"It qualifies you as a human being: you worked for something, and you earned it."