Federal Prisons Bureau to grow IT business

Federal Prison Industries Inc. plans to greatly increase its sales of technology services to federal agencies both directly and by joining teams of other vendors over the next two years, according to the Bureau of Prisons.

The company, also known as Unicor, employs about 25,000 federal prisoners to make products as diverse as printed books, military uniforms and furniture. The enterprise also employs about 1,200 prisoners in its computer recycling operation, the Unicor Recycling Business Group.

Last October, Unicor received the results of a Booz Allen Hamilton study of its prospects for increasing its technology services business, according to the bureau. The study showed that the federal corporation had substantial opportunities to increase its technology services sales.

Unicor now provides several types of technology services, such as the processing of:
  • Freedom of Information Act records

  • land records

  • docket records

  • legal records in litigation support systems and

  • Federal Procurement Data System records.

The federal corporation also provides IT services such as HTML and SGML tagging, indexing and scanning, officials said.

Unicor's labor rates are competitive with low, offshore labor rates, according to the bureau. The federal corporation already has competed successfully against low-wage offshore service providers, officials added. The federal corporation plans to hold an industry day in June to market its services.

Unicor maintains security by various methods. For example, federal prisoners who have experience in technology are not allowed to work in the IT operation. In addition, the prisoner-employees are barred from using pens, pencils or writing instruments while in areas where they process information.

As an additional security measure, Unicor sometimes breaks up information that prisoners process so they don't get access to any type of sensitive material, such as personal data. Federal prisoners also are barred from accessing systems that connect directly to the Internet, officials said.

Unicor officials consider that their corporation could double its sales of technology services over the next two years, they added.

Many of the prisoner employees do not have high-school diplomas, according to officials. About half of them are in jail for drug offenses, the bureau said. The prison work program improves safety and security within the prisons and prepares the inmates for jobs after their release, according to Unicor.

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