HAGERSTOWN, Md. (AP) – Internet shopping knows no boundaries, not even for products made behind bars. Maryland Correctional Enterprises, the manufacturing division of the state Division of Correction, has put its 182-page catalog online. Now anyone can see, if not buy, hundreds of items the agency offers for sale to government agencies and Maryland nonprofit organizations.The products include institutional clothing, bedding, clocks, signs and lots of furniture. Nearly half the pages are filled with furniture, including the Slammer table, designed for correctional environments and named ''because they put 'em in the slammer,'' said Jeff Beeson, executive director of Maryland Correctional Enterprises' board of directors. Topping the furniture offerings is the Traditional Veneer Line, with prices up to $1,885 for a U-shaped desk.
The agency sold $42.8 million worth of goods last year, making it 10th among prison industries in sales in the United States. Beeson said inmates who work in the plants tend to re-offend and return to prison at about half the rate of those who don't. Inmates must have a high-school diploma or GED to work for the agency, which can help with their schooling. Private furniture makers aren't as keen on prison industries. The Independent Office Products and Furniture Dealers Association, based in Arlington, Va., supports a bill passed in September by the U.S. House of Representatives that would require Federal Prison Industries Inc. to compete on a more even footing with the private sector for federal contracts. A 2004 law ended its monopoly on supplying office furniture and other items to federal agencies, but left it with some advantages, said Michael Ochs, the trade group's director of government affairs. Maryland law requires state agencies to buy from Maryland Correctional Enterprises any goods or services it can provide at prices at or below the prevailing average market price. Beeson said Maryland Correctional Enterprises tries to limit its negative economic impact on the private sector by producing things not made by Maryland companies. One category in which the agency has no competition is license plates. It makes every tag sold in Maryland, accounting for $3.8 million in sales. The catalog is at www.dpscs.state.md.us/mcem.