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CU to no longer exclusively buy inmate-made furniture from Colorado Correctional Industries

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The University of Colorado announced Monday it will continue to consider Colorado Correctional Industries, which sells inmate-made furniture, as a vendor for its furniture contracts but will no longer use it as an exclusive provider following calls for the university system to terminate the relationship for ethical reasons.

In an email sent Monday, the CU system said the move was made following a recommendation to CU President Mark Kennedy from a working group made up of students, faculty and staff, according to a release.

Colorado Correctional Industries is a business operating with the support of the Colorado Department of Corrections. The business had been the exclusive provider of furniture across CU’s four campuses and system administration since the 1970s, with CU spending an average of $7 to $10 million annually and $56 million since 2013.

But in the wake of protests against police brutality this year, some called for CU to sever relationships with law enforcement agencies like the Colorado Department of Corrections.

Kennedy convened the group and charged it with determining “whether CU would continue to do business with (Colorado Correctional Industries) as its exclusive furniture vendor in light of business, ethical and moral concerns.”

The group met virtually with leadership from the Colorado Department of Corrections, professional management of the furniture program and inmates in the program.

It also reviewed Colorado Correctional Industries’ annual reports, state audits, the organization’s statutory standing, and CU’s procurement policies and procedures.

The group determined that there were issues inherent in the program that were beyond CU’s scope to change, such as extremely low inmate wages, a small number of opportunities for released inmates to gain furniture industry employment, problems with Colorado Correctional Industries’ business operations and outcomes, and a lack of educational opportunities for inmates.

But the group also cited the program’s positive aspects, noting that it provides inmates with positive and productive ways to spend their time, gives them valuable lessons about formal work environments, helps them help themselves and their families with wages, and provides skills.

The working group concluded that continuing a relationship with Colorado Correctional Industries could help influence change in the program and extend its educational mission into prisons.

“I applaud the working group’s efforts — particularly from our student, faculty and staff shared governance members — in arriving at an equitable solution to a complex issue,” Kennedy said in a statement.

But United Campus Workers Colorado, a CU employee union, expressed disappointment with the decision in a tweet following the announcement.

“We are not happy with this tepid reform,” the statement read. “There are no positives to the prison industrial complex. Members of the CU community should be disappointed with the lack of moral leadership on this issue.”

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