- New York, which declared a state of emergency over coronavirus cases, is now making its own hand sanitizer.
- Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the initiative, which employs prison inmates, during a press conference.
- Online, many people responded critically to the optics of using prison labor to solve a market problem.
Hand sanitizer is a precious commodity during a coronavirus outbreak. So as the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 crosses 100 in New York, the state is taking matters into its own hands — or rather, its prisoners'.
During a press conference on March 9, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced New York had developed its own line of hand sanitizer. “NYS Clean” is 75 percent alcohol, higher than the Centers of Disease Control's recommended 60 percent, and has a "floral bouquet" scent.
"As the number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus continues to rise, unscrupulous retailers are exploiting New Yorkers' anxieties about the virus and charging exorbitant prices for hand sanitizer and other similar products," Governor Cuomo said in a statement, citing some retailers charging about ten times what major retailers charge for hand sanitizer. On eBay a pack of five 2.5-ounce Germ-X hand sanitizer bottles were selling for $500, said the mayor's office.
Cuomo said the state's prison inmates are producing 100,000 gallons of the sanitizer, which costs $6 a gallon to make, each week at the Great Meadow Correctional Facility in Washington, New York. The 1.7 oz., 7 oz. and gallon bottles are not for sale to the general public, but provided to residents free of charge, with the state targeting schools and high-risk communities.
“It’s much cheaper for us to make it ourselves,” Cuomo said.
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The state is also making its own coronavirus test and waiving testing fees with state insurers in an effort to combat concerns about high testing costs. But using inmates as labor goes too far, said some on social media.
The State of New York is fighting coronavirus-inspired price gouging by releasing its own brand of hand sanitizer, made by a company that relies on prison labor. In case you wanted to know where we are, civilization-wise. https://t.co/A0V3htu7kh— Craig Calcaterra (@craigcalcaterra) March 9, 2020
are you paying these inmates a fair wage cuomo, or are you exploiting people to maximize profits?— beth (@bethbourdon) March 9, 2020
Rich Azzopardi, Senior Advisor to the Governor, said in an email, “A central part of prison rehabilitation is job training and skill development, and this is part of that existing program that’s existed for years.”
New York prisoners earn as little as 16 cents an hour, and as much as $1.14 an hour, reported the Gothamist in August 2019. The state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) told Gothamist the average Corcraft inmate wage during the 2015 and 2016 fiscal year was 65 cents an hour, or around $1,092 per inmate per year. The state minimum wage ranges from $15 an hour in New York City to $11.80 an hour upstate.
Details about how much prisoners were being paid to produce the new line of hand sanitizer were not immediately available.
DOCCS Acting Commissioner Anthony J. Annucci said in a statement, "Between increased demand and the price gouging currently taking place in the market, there is a very real need for hand sanitizer for New York residents. DOCCS is proud to meet the Governor's call to action and do our part in stemming the spread of COVID-19 across the state."
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