SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) — Utah Correctional Industries (UCI) is the inmate work program for the Utah Corrections Facility. The program brings real-life work skills to inmates while also honing educational and life skills.

The prison work system boasts a robust printing business, furniture factory, welding shop, and license plate production plant for the male inmates in the Salt Lake Facility. The women’s division is doing a bit of heavy lifting of their own, and the industries supported by these hard-working ladies are vital for the day-to-day operations of not just the Salt Lake Facility but all of the correctional facilities run by the Beehive State.

Daily female inmates report to work in the Commissary Operation, Sewing Shop, and Beverage Processing Plant run by UCI.

In the Commissary Operation inmates fulfill orders placed by inmates throughout Utah Corrections. Inmates are able to use money either earned from working for UCI or sent to them by family or friends to place orders for things like hygiene items, packaged food, and even shoes. The system is a finely-tuned machine with women pulling orders from shelves of products, packaging and tracking orders, and placing division orders in large rolling containers to be shipped to other facilities.

The Commissary Operation at UCI. (All photos courtesy UCI.)

The women there are learning supervisory skills, organization skills, and some have even earned forklift certifications.

One inmate said she knew that the skills she has learned will help her get a good job when she returns back to society. She is a supervisor in the area and is working to gain as much experience as she can to help her and her children when she gets out.  The women take pride in their work.

Many of the inmates are in leadership positions and realize their job is more than just the tasks assigned but also to help one another feel their value and worth.

Robin Radcliff has been working as an inmate for UCI for over 20 years and is a lead in the commissary division. She says her job is more than just her assigned work it is also to help the younger inmates understand the potential that comes from their UCI experience.

The Sewing Shop at UCI. (All photos courtesy UCI.)

“It’s more than just a job here, it’s about teaching people work ethic, and work skills, making them ready to have a job outside of the facility,” said Radcliff.  “It gives me purpose to my life, not only for me; I do it because I enjoy the people I meet working here. Having younger people come in and rotate through and learn that they can get out there and get a job and do better with their life. After all these years at this facility, I’ve met and been able to get with people and say, you know it’s possible to change your life but you have to start here instead of waiting until you leave the facility.”

Radcliff understands the true purpose of the program and relates that it’s not just job skills that will help prevent inmates form falling back into criminal patterns when they get out.

“I know in these jobs at UCI we build a community. When people feel like they are part of a community you are less likely to want to damage or hurt your community,” Radcliff said with confidence. “They can show their families, hey I work, I have supported myself within the facility, I can work and support myself outside of the facility. I can be a member of the community or of society that gives back rather than is taking.”

The Beverage Processing Plant at UCI. (All photos courtesy UCI.)

Female inmates also work in a sewing factory that produces inmate clothing and some outside contracted sewing for companies that produce items from clothing to diaper bags.

The third industry for the women’s division is the Beverage Processing Plant, which processes juice pouches that are used in dining halls in all state correction facilities, including half-way houses.

UCI is like any other employment. Employees are expected to complete tasks and show up on time. In addition, they learn life skills and communication skills. Inmates also report they enjoy working with UCI staff. They say they feel respected, even on the days when work may not be the greatest, they still are grateful for the opportunities many of them never received before incarceration and acknowledge the benefits of working for UCI.

“I work with staff that treats us with respect and dignity that is an important thing. I work with UCI staff that knows we are valued members of what they need to complete the job here and that makes all the difference in the world.” Radcliff said. “Because you can learn to deal with people that treat you with respect and give respect. A lot of people, when you leave here and you are outside the facility, you need to know respect is earned not given.”

Radcliff summed up the experience with the wisdom she has learned from her time with UCI.

“People are people everywhere. People change and grow. It’s about giving people opportunities to see something different for their life.”