White Paper - Prison Inmates as Teleworkers ( Ver 1.7)

Table of Contents
Problem Statements
The eTaskBoard Approach
Inmate Transition
Open Issues
Problem Statements

Many inmate jobs are low paying manual labor or factory jobs, partly due to the misguided perception by prospective employers that all inmates are uneducated and unskilled, and partly due to the difficulty of bringing high-paying jobs to the prison setting. Besides reducing the income to the state, restitution programs, and the inmate, this also prepares the inmate for a job that is in low demand as factory jobs move to places like China. The net result is an underpaid inmate who is not well prepared to rejoin the workforce, and thus increases recidivism.

Compounding this are the inmates, particularly the younger ones, arriving with valuable computer-based skills that atrophy and grow obsolete during their incarceration. Note that computer-based skill sets are not the same as IT skill sets, but rather computer-based leverage points to many other skill sets. An example is a legal aid worker who is proficient in case management software and online legal research.

From a private-sector viewpoint, prisoners represent a net productivity loss for our state. Their work output is reduced or eliminated while they continue to consume resources. Given their sizeable proportion of our population, this represents a measurable decrease in our ability to compete in world markets1. Whereas punishing crime is appropriate, we should look for approaches that do not also punish the rest of us.

Given their commuting limitations, we view prison inmates as teleworkers with additional restrictions. Besides the lack of physical access, which is not a problem for eTaskBoard, most inmates would have to work with strict or complete internet access restrictions.

The eTaskBoard Approach

Although still an evaluation-stage project at this time, the factors below indicate that eTaskBoard may become an effective solution to the above problems:

  • Labor statistics2 indicate that knowledge workers are growing in demand as well as pay grade when compared to other labor categories.

  • eTaskBoard provides a variety of implementations depending on the skill sets to be employed, the type of inmate to be considered, the size and scope of tasks assigned, and the amount of hours/week employed.

  • Many of the government agencies likely to be eTaskBoard employers already embrace the virtual workforce concept3 and have in place policies and procedures promoting telework.

  • Transitioning released inmates or parolees to the private sector can be a seamless process whereby workers are reassigned to direct online eTaskBoard access from their homes.

  • Monitoring and managing a paroled inmate's work-related activities is far simpler and more reliable with eTaskBoard than via a conventional job.

Restricting a worker's internet access is by now a well-worn path because of its importance to worker productivity and for the security concerns of the many knowledge workers at classified defense facilities. Relevant access controls include restricting browsers to specific IP addresses, and to operating the worker side of eTaskBoard in a virtual private network (VPN). Because eTaskBoard is designed with a human, non-inmate Coordinator between workers and employers, eTaskBoard is well suited to the internet access restrictions of inmates.


In the private sector, a prospective eTaskBoard Coordinator applies to Bizware Online Applications Inc much like a franchise applicant. Evaluation criteria to consider Coordinators include an understanding of the target eTaskBoard's business community, typically including years of experience with the target workers and employers. Authorized Coordinators pay Bizware an up-front $10,000 to cover the costs of opening an eTaskBoard account within their specialty, as well as the design and fielding of their marketing website and the hands-on support needed to become a practicing expert of the virtual workplace. Within 6 months, Coordinators have P&L responsibility for their specialized eTaskBoards with a few dozen workers and several dozen open employer accounts. Once operational, eTaskBoards pay Bizware a monthly fee equal to 4% of gross billings for hosting, maintenance, and support.

Prison eTaskBoardImplementation within the prison system will be different. A small, proof-of-concept implementation would be more appropriate, with lessons-learned in a case study paper presented through a professional society. A highly specialized eTaskBoard stands the best chance of becoming a successful showcase, as shown by the examples below:

As a variation of the basic eTaskBoard layout, the prison interaction diagram at right shows the curtailed access of the inmate's workstation. The non-inmate Coordinator manages all outside communication and assigns tasks by passing them to the inmate's workstation. This can be done by physically carrying a USB memory stick from the Coordinator's computer to the inmate's workstation, a.k.a. the sneaker net. After the value and efficient operation of an eTaskBoard is demonstrated, a more effective and more secure direct line from the Coordinator's computer may be considered, with the approval of the prison's Information Security Officer.

To increase inmate productivity, they can be given access to the eTaskBoard modules as deemed worthwhile by prison management. Whereas they may use a paper-based timecard system, for example, they can transition to the computerized eTaskBoard timecard that automatically allocates their time to the tasks being worked. Likewise, paper printouts of eTaskBoard's Test Manager can eventually be replaced with access to the computer-based tests. This can be a migration conditional to a lack of security violations.

eTaskBoard Implementation Examples for Inmates

Henry Hernandez is a public sector project manager and is in need of a logo for the Powerpoint cover of a new project announcement. Henry uses a credit card to establish a $50 account with the online Inmate Innovators, an eTaskBoard implementation specializing only in designing logos.

Using an online form, Henry writes a few sentences to summarize his project and his audience, and describes the type of logo that would appeal to him. This becomes a proposed task.

The Inmate Innovators Coordinator, a private-sector employee, reviews Henry's proposed task and uses his eTaskBoard's skillset matching tools to assign the task to inmate Wilson who accepts the task to be done within 2 hours over the next 4 days.

With Wilson's labor rate previously agreed at $15/hr, the Coordinator requests Henry to authorize the task at a not-to-exceed of $30.

Henry authorizes the task, and Wilson completes it, passing his work product to the Coordinator for quality review. The Coordinator accepts the logo and passes it to Henry. eTaskBoard's ecommerce feature charges $30 against Henry's credit card, and distributes the income into designated accounts such as eTaskBoard overhead, institute operations, restitution, and Wilson's income.


Mary Morris, a Public Defender, needs to file a motion to exclude evidence. Mary has an echeck-based account with the online Inmates in Motion, an eTaskBoard which uses inmates to file Superior Court motions.

Looking through task templates, Mary finds one that describes the elements of an evidentiary motion. Mary edits that into a task describing her requirements and proposes that to the Inmates in Motion Coordinator, a prison employee.

The Coordinator finds inmate Jones the best-fit worker to do the task. Jones accepts the task for 6 hours to be done over the next 3 days.

With Jones's labor rate at $12/hr, the Coordinator requests Mary to authorize the task at a not-to-exceed of $72, which Mary does.

Jones does the legal research using the knowledge base housed on the prison's computer, and writes the motion using eTaskBoard's document editor in 5 hours. After reviewing the work product for quality, the Coordinator passes the work product to Mary. As the task status changes to done, eTaskBoard automatically removes $60 from Mary's eTaskBoard account.

After reviewing the motion, Mary follows the above procedure to authorize an additional task for one hour so Jones can expand on an important point.


Dr. Allen Adams is a dentist at the VA Hospital. As follow up to tooth implants, Dr. Adams has to pour over post treatment x-rays. He has learned that if he asks trained technicians to also look over his x-rays, his odds of finding important abnormalities increases.

Dr. Adams uses Rehab Reinforcements, an eTaskBoard implementation to assign a task with a checklist to review 40 x-rays whose images he attaches to the task. In the task, he includes references to knowledge base records on the prison server showing the particular types of abnormalities that interest him.

With the help of eTaskBoard's skillset matcher, the Rehab Reinforcements Coordinator, a consultant, finds inmate Chang the best-fit worker to do the task. Chang accepts the task for 2 hours to be done by the next day.

With Chang's $20/hr rate, the Coordinator proposes completing the task to Dr. Adams for $40. Dr. Adams, who prefers to employ inmates as his good turn for society, nonetheless complains that the $40 is too high compared to private sector rates to do the same thing.

The Coordinator removes some implied requirements from the task description, and then Chang says he can do that for 1.5 hours. The Coordinator proposes the task for $30, which Dr. Adams authorizes.

Chang completes his x-ray review, attaching his report to the task record, which the Coordinator passes to Dr. Adams. Dr. Adams's eTaskBoard account is debited $30.

For an expanded collection of eTaskBoard specialties for prison inmates, see our growing list. The actual eTaskBoard implementation specialty is open to discussions that reflect the needs unique to the facility we select.

From a financial standpoint, Bizware is interested in subsidizing such a proof-of-concept implementation because the odds of replication within the prison community are high.

Transitioning Inmates to Work on the Outside

Whether an inmate looks at eTaskBoard as a job with a future or as hands-on training for a job with a future, eTaskBoard can also improve the transition itself. Instead of the disruptive change from prison life to finding a job on the outside, released inmates using eTaskBoard simply log in from their home to find the same environment, just without the need to communicate by carrying a USB memory stick. The same type of tasks are in their to-do list. There need be not one day's interruption from using eTaskBoard to prepare for the future to using the same eTaskBoard to be part of the future.

From a prison authority standpoint, most of the visibility into an inmate's work performance is just as available for a parolee. A parole officer can monitor a parolee's daily work activities down to the task level, much the same as a correctional officer can do for an inmate. A parolee's inability or unwillingness to make progress on a work task, for example, will be clearly evident from missed due dates on the task record, as well as difficulties evidenced in the task notes. A report of successfully completed tasks on the other hand, would be just as indicative of a parolee effectively rejoining the workforce. This unprecedented level of performance detail provides the option of a more timely intervention from the parolee's support group.

Once released, a parolee may pursue traditional employee placement, but knowing that on a part-time basis, eTaskBoard can provide some work income. More importantly, eTaskBoard can provide validated current work experience for those seeking traditional employment.

Open Issues

A prison needs to be selected to showcase the first eTaskBoard for inmates. The eTaskBoard specialty could be defined in consultation with the managers of the selected facility. This specialty will reflect the skillset inventory prevalent among that facility's inmate population, what special restrictions need to be considered, including inmate disabilities, and what knowledge-based work product the facility managers feel would best represent their institution.


In summary, eTaskBoard is a way to leverage the emerging virtual workplace to increase inmate income at the same time that we reduce recidivism by preparing inmates for better paying jobs with a future.



Workforce productivity is the amount of goods and services that a worker produces in a given amount of time. Many complex metrics go into computing this important statistic, but in all cases, the denominator is the number of workers in order to arrive at the per-worker average. An example may be:
[gross domestic product in dollars]
[number of workers]

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, this productivity metric in 2005 among industrialized nations varied from 75 for Australia to 122 for Norway, with the USA at 100. With the full range at ±20%, the standard deviation is 6%, which by definition would be a significant productivity variation. A nation that could boost productivity by 6% would enjoy a significant increase in global competitiveness.

The United States has less than 5 percent of the world's population, but it has almost a quarter of the world's prisoners. With 2.3 million behind bars, every other country in the world trails the US.

Given that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics pegs the number of employed Americans at 153 million, the ratio of inmates to workers is 1.5%. With the denominator of any productivity ratio increased by 1.5% without any increase in the output of the numerator, the productivity penalty is 1.5%. That is 25% of the standard deviation in productivity between industrialized nations, a significant penalty.

Many factors affect a nation's productivity, but taken by itself, the loss of the inmate workforce has a significant negative effect on America's productivity.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Labor_productivity


According to a survey conducted by the Telework Research Network:

  • 2.8 million Americans consider their home as their primary workplace. This does not include the self employed or unpaid volunteers, but even without them has already surpassed the nation's sizeable prison population.

  • About 20 to 30 million Americans currently work from home at least one day a week. These numbers represent a 74% increase since 2005, with the rate of annual increases accelerating.

  • 61% of federal employees are considered eligible for telework, with 5.2% doing so on a regular basis.

  • Mostly in response to high gas prices, 42% of America's employers offer a telecommuting option for their employees, with the trend increasing.

  • 37% of American workers would choose one job over another specifically over the ability to telecommute.

  • The household income of an average teleworker:
    • Under $40,000 = 10%
    • $40-75,000 = 32%
    • >$75,000 = 52%

Source: www.teleworkresearchnetwork.com/telecommuting-statistics


Governmental support for teleworking began with the foundations of the internet, developed by DARPA, a federal agency. Federal support has been steady, culminating in the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010 and the launching of the Telework.gov website to encourage teleworking within all aspects of the government.

Within California, the Department of General Services has statutory authority to coordinate and facilitate policy, procedures, and guidelines to assist agencies in their efforts to implement telework. California's Government Code Section 14200.1.b. states "It is the intent of the Legislature to encourage state agencies to adopt policies that encourage telecommuting by state employees."

Source: www.telework.gov


In another white paper, we present an overview of the current state of inmate access to the internet, and the relevant regulations and policies. We make the case for a secure, custody-based plan to leverage this emerging technology instead of just fighting a rear-guard action against its growth.

Included are the reasons email is more effective to control and manage inmate communication than postal mail, visitation, or telephone calls. Networked access to an inmate's workstation is presented as a way to to increase surveillance and control..

Source: www.etaskboard.com/wpinmateint.htm

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