February 26, 1996 in Nation/World

Paycheck Deductions Make Inmate Hone Subtraction Skills

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Albert Delp’s attitude and math skills have grown since he began working inside the Airway Heights Correctional Center.

One of nearly 40 medium-security inmates working for Omega Pacific Inc., Delp gets a challenge from assembling and fine-tuning the working parts of several hundred carabiners a day.

It’s the large hole in his paycheck that’s harder to take, said the 34-year-old member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, serving an 11-year sentence for first-degree assault.

He earns $6 per hour, the same as the other Omega Pacific worker-inmates.

When the firm moved from Redmond, Wash., in December, the Department of Employment Security set those wages by checking what comparable workers get in the Spokane area.

The state minimum wage is $4.90 per hour.

The firm also had to prove the move did not negatively affect other companies making carabiners - metal fastening devices used by climbers and hikers.

Omega workers also endure more deductions than outside workers: 20 percent goes for “incarceration costs”; 20 percent to repay victims or cover legal costs; another 5 percent goes to a general crime victims’ fund, and 15 percent for payroll taxes.

Another 10 percent is set aside as mandatory savings.

“By the time they’re done, about a quarter (of the paycheck) is left,” said Delp, who is a musician and has worked as a commercial fisherman.

That’s still better than the 35 cents an hour he earned last year at the prison music room, where he repaired instruments.

That’s about the average for inhouse jobs, such as producing license plates or restoring furniture.

Delp plans on getting out in six years. “I’m going to stay working (here as long as I can).

“It’s one way of reminding people we’re not all total failures, that we will come out and can do things right.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo


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