Presidential Candidate Bloomberg Under Fire For Alleged Use Of Oklahoma Inmates
Former New York City Mayor and 2020 presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg is under fire after a report that he used inmates from Oklahoma to make campaign calls on his behalf.
In a story first reported by The Intercept, it was discovered those Oklahoma inmates were making campaign calls to prospective voters in California. In a statement on Twitter, the Bloomberg campaign is saying it only learned about the use of inmates after it was discovered by reporters.
"We do not support this practice, and we are making sure our vendors more properly vet their subcontractors moving forward," a campaign spokesperson said.
The company behind the program is New Jersey-based telecom company ProCom, which was hired by a third-party contractor. News 9 was unable to see how much money the campaign had given Procom or the contractor because no documents have been filed with the FEC.
ProCom issued a statement to News 9 late Tuesday afternoon, outlining their answers several questions:
Is it true you contract with ProCom to operate call centers inside your facilities?
Vendors contract with us via Oklahoma Correctional Industries to provide inmate labor for call centers at some of our facilities. We have five such partners.
How do these projects work? What do inmates work on?
In exchange for providing the inmates’ excellent work opportunities, these vendors decide what projects the inmates will work on (fitting with our rules and guidelines).
Generally, those can include calls conducting surveys, selling subscriptions and making campaign calls all while reading from a script. Vendors also provide the staff to oversee the inmates, as well as the computers, software and training.
Do the inmates have to identify themselves as inmates?
Whether the inmates identify themselves as inmates is up to the vendors, as is any disclaimer the inmates may or may not be required to provide.
No inmates conduct any financial transactions for customers, nor do they have the customers’ phone numbers. Additionally, inmates’ participation in the programs is voluntary.
How much are inmates paid for this work? How much can they earn total?
The pay that’s been reported is incorrect. Inmates can receive $1.45 an hour working for call centers, working eight hours a day, five days a week. Inmates may work additional hours but only with permission from the Director of Oklahoma Correctional Industries.
We believe this type of work helps prepare inmates for release, and these public/private partnerships give them an idea of and training in what to expect in the workplace later.
For those who won’t release, it gives them a purpose while they’re incarcerated. They also help improve safety and security inside prisons because these jobs are only available to inmates who follow the rules and behave.
The use of prison labor for political purposes is already garnering swift backlash. According to the DOC's website, inmates are only allowed to make $20 a month for jobs they're assigned to, raising questions about civil rights violations for forcing inmates to participate in political campaigns they may not agree with and can't vote in.
The former New York Mayor has spent a considerable amount of money in Oklahoma on an ad campaigns introducing himself to voters, and this news could hurt his already slim primary chances in a state where criminal justice reform has been front and center for the last four years.