Mr. Bakke Goes to Folsom

Bob Bakke stands before concrete.
(photo KM)
On yet another journey, I recently visited the maximum security California State Prison, Sacramento County, at Folsom. I was there for an important university project involving faculty and students from several disciplines. We have been funded to carry out a large $250,000 project for the California Prison Industry Authority, also known as the PIA, the people who bring us furniture, supplies, and, yes, license plates. The project is called The Interactive Electronic Catalog. It involves the design of a new Web-based home page for the Prison Industry Authority and the design, development, activation, and maintenance of an on-line catalog for the purchase of PIA products. This project also contains a large training component.

The PIA is a unique state agency, a combination of corrections and business enterprise. The PIA was created over fifty years ago to organize inmate labor into productive activities. In the beginning, most of PIA's activities related to provisions for the Correctional System (laundry, clothing, shoes, and other things for the inmates). Currently, the state allows the PIA to make other products, such as office furniture, modular office stations, and numerous other goods—so long as this production does not intrude unfairly into the activities of the private sector.

The Interactive Electronic Catalog is a project ahead of its time, as many state agencies still do not even have local e-mail networks. This new system will allow for marketing, promotion, and the on-line ordering of PIA products.

The project director is Robert Main, chair, Department of Communication Design, with Lee Pryor, from the Department of Accounting and Management Information Systems as the principal project consultant. Pryor has had extensive experience and great success in working with the Prison Industry Authority previously. Faculty and staff working on the project include Rick Hanneman, Phil Quinn, Fred Condo, Nancy DeBord, Gerald Fogle, and Janiss Wentworth from Communication Design; and Laura Kling, from the Instructional Media Center's Graphic design unit. The project will also offer rich opportunities for students.

The challenge is to put some real marketing pizzazz into the PIA product line and to build state-of-the-art Internet and database systems to provide on-line access to these items.

California State University, Chico, long a leader in communication design, information and communications services, and Internet networking services, has thus taken the lead once again. Marketing products made by prisoners is just one of the challenges facing the project team.

Following a visit to several "prison factories" at Folsom Prison, I came away with an uplifting sense that this work does nothing but good. It provides inmates with productive activity, responsibility, time management, life-skills development, and a nominal salary. I heard many stories about how well former PIA workers have taken the skills and experience they learned in prison right into the work force.

I am very pleased to be associated with this project and look forward to its many successes. However, I may pass on the next prison factory tour. Walking out into the prison yard, after having been told that there were sharpshooters watching, was not necessarily my idea of a good time. Nonetheless, it was gratifying to see how sound business practice can be integrated into the lives of people who, in most cases, never developed the skills to make a contribution previously.

Bob Bakke, Sponsored Projects

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