The Joint Venture Program gives San Quentin Prison inmates
an opportunity for higher-paying jobs.

By OPEC Staff

San Quentin State Prison inmates recently gave $36,000 to five Bay Area crime victim’s service groups, said Lt. Sam Robinson, public information officer at the prison.

The gifts of about $7,200 each were generated by 27 inmates who are in the prison’s Joint Venture Program, which provides well-paid jobs for inmates.

“It was a good day,” said Warden Kevin Chappell. “We were able to reach beyond the walls of San Quentin and provide resources to some very deserving organizations in the San Francisco Bay area.”

Receiving the money were the Canal Alliance, the Center for Domestic Peace and the Sunny Hills Children’s Center, all based in Marin, and the Oakland-based Bay Area Women Against Rape and the East Oakland Youth Development Center.

The Joint Venture Program was created after the passage of Proposition 139, the Inmate Labor Initiative, in 1990. The proposition amended prison labor laws to allow prisons to set up inmate work contracts with private businesses.

The initiative mandates that 20 percent of the inmates’ total earnings go toward victim compensation.

The rest of the money goes in equal parts toward taxes, the inmates’ room and board, personal savings, inmates’ family support and an account at the prison canteen, Robinson said.

Since the law was created, some inmates have been able to work for private companies and earn wages comparable to the state minimum wage, which is $8 an hour.

The inmates at San Quentin make medical devices for Labcon North America, based in Petaluma. They clock in at an on-site facility at the prison.

Anna Duckworth of KCBS Radio interviews Warden Chappell.

Robinson said inmates apply for the program and are allowed to do the work for only about two or three years to allow other inmates the opportunity to participate.

Most other jobs through the California Prison Industry Authority pay inmates anywhere from 30 to 90 cents an hour.

“Many guys inside, when given opportunity, give back to the community. It definitely does elevate their sense of well-being,” Robinson said. “They all realize they’ve caused some type of harm to the community.”