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US Prisons vs Indian Call Centres

By Indo - Asian News Service

18 July, 2004

Competition is brewing for Indian call centres from an unlikely source, American prisons.

The private sector in the US is reported to be trying to capitalise on the fact that the country has the world's highest incarcerations rates.

While companies benefit from wages as low as or lower than in popular outsourcing countries such as the Philippines or India, they do not attract the adverse media attention of jobs being exported.

Prisoners in the US have always been made to pay, its 2.1 million jailbirds produce an estimated $1.5 billion (830 million pounds) in goods and services.

Now several prisoners are being employed to take up call centre jobs.

More than 150 inmates in a Virginia prison build car parts for the automotive industry while elsewhere other inmates make circuit boards, furniture, limousines, waterbeds and even lingerie.

Now 12 states have reportedly ventured beyond the traditional goods into the service industry with a head-on challenge to foreign call centres.

Compared with the average national salary of $36,750 (19,750 pounds) a year, or about $3,000 a month, prisoners are typically paid between $120 and $185 a month for a 40-hour call centre working week.

Inmates must have between three and five years left on their sentences to qualify for the jobs, which are highly coveted. The staff turnover rate at an average "outside" call centre is 33 percent.

Prison officials randomly monitor inmates' telephone conversations and calls are digitally recorded to discourage abuse and illegal activities.