Barbara Sharp: ARHS use of prison labor is not a bad thing

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Published: 6/11/2019 5:19:50 PM

It’s good to see that students at Amherst-Pelham Regional High School (with the help of their English teacher and two UMass journalism professors) are actively pursuing investigative journalism. I refer to the Gazette’s June 6 article about the use of prison labor to reupholster the school’s auditorium seats.

According to the article, it all started with a “rumor,” characterized by at least one student as “shocking” and “sketchy,” that the school district had contracted with the Massachusetts Department of Corrections to perform this work.

Once the story was published in the school newspaper, an outcry arose from some quarters, expressing “concern” that the school district had made such an arrangement. The superintendent’s reaction was to announce that the district would never again enter into such an agreement.

It is unclear to me why people would be upset about such an agreement in the first place, and even less clear why the superintendent would acquiesce to peoples’ questionable indignation.

There are many similar programs in our region. Inmates sign up voluntarily to learn a skilled trade and, while in prison, work for outside individuals and organizations, under the direction of the correctional institute. It is not “forced labor,” as some have claimed. The inmates are paid a modest wage and they learn a trade which they can practice upon being released from prison, should they wish. Some years ago, our family took advantage of a program at the Hampshire House of Correction, whereby inmates performed the skilled craft of chair caning, under supervision from correctional staff. The results were a win-win for all involved.

These programs should be commended, not condemned.

Barbara Sharp

Northampton




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