Washington Inmate Labor Programs, SJR 8212 (2007)

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The Washington Inmate Labor Programs Amendment, also known as Senate Joint Resolution 8212, was on the November 6, 2007 ballot in Washington as a legislatively-referred constitutional amendment, where it was approved. The measure authorized state-operated inmate labor programs to be used by private entities through state contracts.[1] The measure amended Section 29 of Article II of the Washington Constitution.[2]

Election results

Washington SJR 8212 (2007)
Approveda Yes 937,557 60.71%

Election results via: Washington Secretary of State

Text of measure

See also: Washington State Constitution, Section 29 of Article II

The language appeared on the ballot as:[1]

The legislature has proposed a constitutional amendment on inmate labor.

This amendment would authorize state-operated inmate labor programs and programs in which inmate labor is used by private entities through state contracts, and prohibit privately operated programs from unfairly competing with Washington businesses.

Should this constitutional amendment be:

Approved [ ] Rejected [ ][3]



The following reasons were given in support of SJR 8212 in the Washington 2007 Voters' Guide:[1]

We believe offenders should not just sit idle while they serve their time in state prison. They should work to reduce their burden on taxpayers by paying room and board, crime victim’s compensation, court costs and any child support they might owe. One sure way to accomplish this is to allow private, for-profit or nonprofit businesses to employ offenders in our prisons, without putting the public’s safety at risk.

Offenders working promotes safety both inside and outside our prisons. It keeps them busy while incarcerated. Work permitted under this constitutional amendment has been scientifically shown to reduce recidivism of offenders who are released. This will not only save taxpayers money but it will prevent future victimization. Reducing recidivism is at the heart of the bipartisan Offender Reentry Initiative signed into law this year.

The work allowed by this constitutional amendment had been available in our prisons, providing these benefits, for more than 20 years. In fact, in 2004, when legislation reauthorized and set new goals for Class I work, both business and labor agreed to noncompetition provisions in legislation, which the Legislature then enacted unanimously. But a technical Supreme Court ruling eliminated the work in 2004. This is why we are bringing this constitutional amendment to the public, to restore the benefits to the citizens of Washington this work can provide.

For more information, call (360) 457-2520.[3]

The arguments in favor of SJR 8212 were prepared by:[1]

  • Jim Hargrove, State Senator, 24th Legislative District
  • Mike Carrell, State Senator, 28th Legislative District
  • Al O'Brien, State Representative, 1st Legislative District
  • Jeralita Costa, former Washington State Senator
  • Donald G. Pierce, Executive Director, Washington Association, Sheriffs and Police Chiefs



The following reasons were given in opposition to SJR 8212 in the Washington 2007 Voters' Guide:[1]


The criminal justice system is in place to dispense justice and punishment for crimes committed against society. While education and job training can prepare felons for a successful return to the community, it should not be to the detriment of law-abiding citizens competing for jobs or local businesses competing in the marketplace.


Proposed positions for inmates incarcerated in state correctional facilities are highly desired labor positions. These jobs should go to private workers outside prison walls who choose to live according to the rules.


There are no guarantees SJR 8212 won’t create unfair competition for Washington jobs and businesses. This is why unfair inmate labor was prohibited in the Constitution in the first place. SJR 8212 is a clear attempt to undo these constitutional protections for the workers and businesses of this state. Government should create additional job opportunities for all Washingtonians, not focus a disproportionate share of its efforts on the inmate labor force. SJR 8212 merely states that inmate labor programs may not unfairly compete with Washington businesses. It doesn’t indicate how it will accomplish this goal. Without specific language in place outlining a clear plan, local businesses will be impacted by inmate work programs and law-abiding citizens seeking employment will be displaced by inmate laborers.


Preparing felons to return to the community with job skills can be accomplished through existing vocational training and educational programs that provide inmates future employment opportunities while not unfairly competing with local businesses, wrongfully displacing local workers, and negatively impacting local economies.[3]

The arguments against SJR 8206 were prepared by:[1]

  • Lynn Schindler, State Representative, 4th Legislative District
  • Larry Crouse, State Representative, 4th Legislative District

Media editorial positions


  • Seattle Post Intelligencer said, "With busier inmates, prisons also would tend to be safer places. More important, studies have shown that inmates who work in prison do better when they get out, both in avoiding future crimes and becoming productive members of society. Their release, then, is less likely to lead to a downward spiral in which their good intentions are torn away."[4]
  • The News Tribune said, "This is what successful rehabilitation is all about. Giving inmates useful, productive jobs not only teaches good work habits but also makes them more employable upon release."[5]


  • The Stranger said, "Unfortunately, the language doesn't provide enough safeguards against labor abuses (the reason the practice has been prohibited by our state constitution since 1899)."[6]

Path to the ballot

In accordance with the Washington Constitution, the Senate and House approved the proposal by a two-thirds vote before submitting the measure to the voters. The following is the results of the legislature's votes:[1]

Yeas Nays Absent Excused
Senate 49 0 0 0
House 83 15 0 0

See also

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