New York Governor Employs Prison Inmates To Make 100,000 Gallons Of Hand Sanitizer

Three-time New York governor, Andrew Cuomo, provoked the ire of activists and politicians, when he announced at the press briefing on Monday that prisoners were employed to make hand sanitizers, for which demand has hit an all-time peak during the COVID-19 outbreak. 

During the grand showcasing of  gallons of hand sanitizers, the governor gave out the name of the manufacturer, Corcraft, which is the company that sells products made by the state’s prisoners. He was confident that they could manufacture 100,000 gallons of hand sanitizers every week, as per The New York Times. The intention behind the unveiling was to present a cheap alternative to retailers looking to make money off the rising demand for hand sanitizers. 

Cuomo strictly warned retailers to stop selling overpriced products amid the pandemic. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio also warned businesses against exploiting the current health crisis by price gouging. The Mayor’s office said that violators could be fined. His office followed through on his word and imposed a fine on a store located on W 38th Street in Manhattan. Scheman and Grant Hardware was selling disinfectants such as sprays, wipes and sanitizer at exorbitant rates.  

New Bill To Prevent Price Gouging 

Lawmakers in the state of New York introduced a bill very recently to curb the hiking of prices, especially since online retail giants like Amazon and eBay have moved in demand sanitizers with revised mark up rates on top of search lists. So far, the bill has quite a few sponsors. If passed, the bill will limit the increase of prices of medical supplies to no more than 10 percent. It would allow the Attorney General of the United States to fine distributors, manufacturers and retailers up to $25,000. 

Prisoners An Orange County sheriff's deputy handcuffs prisoners he loads them in to jail in Fullerton, California, June , 2009. Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

Price gouging is now preventing people from buying the right supplies to further stop the escalation of the outbreak. An advantage that Cuomo spoke of at the press meet is regarding the price. A gallon of Corcraft manufactured hand sanitizers only takes $6.10 to manufacture, as opposed to purchasing it at a much higher rate on the free market, he said. 

Inmates under the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision in New York are trained to make mattresses, pillows, spectacles and license plates, among other products. These items are only authorized to be sold at local government agencies and non-profit organizations, which is where the hand sanitizers by Corcraft are available currently, including outbreak hot spots now.  

Exploiting Prisoners

Inmates are paid a pittance of 10 cents to 62 cents for an hour’s labor, as per the Prison Policy Initiative. Activists expressed their discontent at them having to work so hard to make hand sanitizers that they eventually may not be able to use themselves since prisoners are not allowed to consume alcohol in any form. 

According to the Legal Aid Society, if prisoners refuse to work, they are punished harshly, sometimes with solitary confinement. State Senator Zellnor Myrie from Brooklyn does not believe in asking the “incarcerated to save the public from a health crisis.” Last year, he introduced a bill requesting a minimum wage of $3 per hour for prisoners, to grant them dignity of fair wage.