Unlike prison workers, federal inmates still getting paid during government shutdown

About 100 prison workers at South Dakota’s federal prison camp in Yankton are still showing up to work during the government shutdown, even though their pay is being denied. But in a "Say, what?!" outrage, the inmates they are supervising are still being compensated for the jobs they do onsite.

"There's a different funding for them," American Federation of Government Employees Local 4040 Union President Michele Kunkel told a local CBS affiliate.

Kunkel says the 36,000 prison workers employed by the Federal Bureau of Prisons are operating on an IOU system and will most likely get paid whenever the federal government shutdown ends. But the longer the shutdown carries on, the harder it becomes for prison employees to make ends meet.

Kunkel herself knows the sting particularly well, as both she and her husband are employed at the Yankton prison camp.

“We can't go to the grocery store and buy groceries and give them, 'Oh, here's our government IOU,'" Kunkel said.

The prisoners are paid for their work from a separate fund. And since they make considerably smaller wages than a worker outside the prison walls, the Department of Justice says they have enough cash to cover the lapse of funding while parts of the federal government remain closed. The Federal Prison Industries (FPI) program receives about $2.7 million in government funding each year .

FPI employees are paid a minimum of 23 cents per hour and can legally be paid up to $1.15 an hour for their work. All able-bodied federal prisoners are required by law to work for FPI or in some other prison labor capacity.

Along with working in the prison commissary, prisoners employed by FPI, aka, UNICOR, produce a wide assortment of goods, including office furniture, license plates and even eyewear.

UNICOR/FPI was founded in 1934 and is controlled by the federal government. Products produced by the prison population are only allowed to be sold at cost to other federal agencies and cannot be placed on the commercial market.