I was released in December of 2019 after spending nearly 12 years in the Colorado Department of Corrections. Through most of my incarceration, I was assigned to a Colorado Correctional Industries (CCI) work crew at Arkansas Valley Correctional Facility. Over the course of my assignment, I educated myself in areas of web design, computer programming, database management, and most of the skills I use daily as the Senior Operations Associate for Defy Ventures Colorado.
Some say that I should simply be grateful to have learned such valuable career skills while incarcerated. I am undoubtedly grateful, yet I strongly believe that there is still much to be improved for the success of CCI. Primarily, mitigating the collateral effects of incarceration suffered by CCI's resident employees and their families. For example, many families overextend themselves financially to stay in contact through expensive phone calls ($2.40 for 20 minutes), and visitation (average roundtrip from Denver: over 230mi. and over 4hrs.) where the average two person visit spends more than $80 on overpriced food typically found in a gas station.
More consequential are the devastating effects on children. CCI workers earn an average of $100 per month. At these wages, one can hardly afford necessities such as soap, deodorant, and toothpaste, let alone pay much meaningful child support. In the short term a child loses a parent's love, guidance, and financial support. In the long term, that parent comes home to a mountain of child support and restitution debt (Colorado earns interest for both) which further takes away from a parent's ability to provide for their children.
Due to recent events, some have called on the University of Colorado (CU)—by far CCI's greatest customer—to cease business operations with CCI (learn more). In an effort to maintain their partnership with CU, my former supervisor at CCI requested I share my views about the opportunities and benefits that CCI provides to its employees.
Below is my response to Mark Kennedy, President of the University of Colorado.
July 13, 2020
Dear President Kennedy:
My name is Nick Scofield, I am a formerly incarcerated person and a former “offender employee” of Colorado Correctional Industries (CCI). I am writing regarding the petition to cease partnership with CCI in response to the murder of George Floyd.
During the period of my incarceration, I was fortunate to be hired in CCI's web design department. During my seven years in the department, I became proficient in web development, server administration, graphic design, team management, and more skills than I can reasonably list here. Since my recent release, I have translated those skills into a position with Defy Ventures Colorado where I manage virtually all the digital systems within our organization. In addition to learning valuable work skills, I was able to maintain a semblance of normalcy by managing the responsibilities of a workplace that was as similar to the outside world as possible.
A key area where I feel CCI could make a drastic improvement is offender pay. For an organization that had revenues of $48.6 million in FY2019 to pay their employees just $4.50 a day would strike anyone as unjust. There is already a system that allows CCI workers to earn minimum wage while covering cost of confinement and requiring savings for post‐release, but this system applies only to offenders in federally certified work programs. All CCI workers should be paid under this system. This would allow for full payment of child support obligations and restitution rather than offenders being released to crippling debt. In a state with such a high cost of living, being released with substantial savings would also go a long way towards reducing recidivism.
In addition to increasing offender pay, there is work to be done towards correcting the racial disparity found in CCI work areas. While I can speak only to the racial balance of the facility to which I was assigned, it was clear that the racial balance of those CCI work areas did not match that of the facility in general. While it is understandable that CCI jobs are filled by those with the skills required for the positions available, this only furthers systemic racial disparities found in society at large.
While both employee pay and racial diversity are areas of improvement for CCI, I believe that stopping your contract with CCI would be detrimental to the success of currently incarcerated individuals. People need opportunities to develop skills and build professional employment histories. I urge both CCI and the Colorado Department of Corrections (CDOC) to launch prerequisite job training programs to equip incarcerated individuals with the skills needed to qualify for jobs within CCI that have greater earning and learning opportunities.
I, and the whole of the organization I represent, would be honored to further discuss these matters with any of the stakeholders in this conversation. I look forward the seeing a compromise that allows those incarcerated to learn marketable job skills while earning a fair wage.
Senior Operations Associate
Defy Ventures Colorado