New Maryland Law Boosts Prison-Made U.S. Flags

ANNAPOLIS -- As of Oct. 1, 2009, all flags in the Maryland State House must be made in the "Land of the Free" -- a certain boon to one of the state's proud and profitable prison industries. 

Gov. Martin O'Malley signed legislation this week that requires Maryland and United States flags purchased by the state and displayed on state property to be made in the country. The legislation essentially codifies existing practices in the state. 

All but one flag already flown over the State House and more than 50 other state buildings was not made in Jessup, the home of Maryland Correctional Enterprises, an independent arm of the Division of Correction, said Dave Humphrey, the state's Department of General Services communications director.

The Fort McHenry flag that flies atop the William Donald Schaefer Tower in Baltimore is the only one under general services management that is not made in the correctional facility, since it does not produce the 1812-replica flag, Humphrey said.

Maryland isn't alone its fervor for American-made flags. While several flag bills have died in the U.S. Congress, Minnesota requires that all American flags sold in the state be made domestically, while Tennessee mandates that only U.S.-made flags can be bought via state contracts.

In a year dominated by budget talk, the bill proved an easy sell to Maryland legislators, who passed it unopposed in both the House and the Senate. According to the Department of Legislative Services, the procurement law will not apply to the University System of Maryland and several other state schools and agencies.

Delegate H. Wayne Norman Jr., R-Harford, lead sponsor of the House bill, became involved with the issue on July 4, when he bought an American flag at Home Depot only to discover that it had been made in China. He said he started contemplating a bill that very night.

By the end, he had 78 co-sponsors, which "isn't too bad for a Republican bill" in a Democratic-controlled Legislature.

Delegate B. Daniel Riley, D-Harford, was motivated by the same scenario.

"When you see that symbol, it's a little ironic when it says, 'Made in China," he said. "How can you have a symbol made somewhere else?"

Sen. Barry Glassman, R-Harford, who sponsored the bill in the Senate, called it "an easy bill in tough times."

The fact that it will encourage the prison program is an added bonus, Riley said.

According to the National Correctional Industries Association, Maryland is ranked ninth in the United States in sales of prison-made merchandise and 17th in the number of inmates employed.

Described as "Maryland's premier rehabilitation program," Maryland Correctional Enterprises trains and employs inmates to produce a variety of products, including furniture, license plates and food products, along with flags and other textiles.

Maryland Correctional Enterprises touts the program as a means of achieving two interlocking goals: improving the employability of convicts upon their release and reducing their rates of recidivism. A 15-year study of the program done in conjunction with the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services found that former participants in the program had, on average, recidivism rates more than 50 percent lower than the Department of Corrections general population after their third year of release.

According to its annual report, Maryland Correctional Enterprises also "endeavors ... to be a financially successful organization" in its own right. Profits are used to run and expand the agency, with excess monies usually put back into the state's general fund, said Danielle Lueking, a spokeswoman for the Department of Public Safety.

In order to avoid competing with private businesses, Maryland Correctional Enterprises only sells to state and local government agencies and nonprofits.

In fiscal year 2008, Maryland Correctional Enterprises recorded sales of approximately $51.5 million. That year, it employed 1,890 inmates who received $1.25 to $5.10 per day, depending on the length of time they had worked and the position they held.

Sales of $1.6 million were generated by 125 inmates at Jessup's Maryland Correctional Institution for Women, who sew flags along with shirts, gowns, bathrobes and aprons. Of that total, $37,628 came from 861 flags purchased by Maryland departments and agencies using a Department of General Services statewide contract, Humphrey said.

Norman said the bill is an opportunity for legislators to express their patriotism, a sentiment that dovetailed with one of the correction enterprise's major selling points: "a label affixed to the product which can state 'made in the U.S.A.'"

Capital News Service contributed to this report.