According to a new report by VICE, the state inmates tasked by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo with producing hand sanitizer for distribution to needy institutions are not actually making the sanitizer — they're just repackaging an already-made solution from an unnamed vendor.
Earlier this month, Cuomo announced at a press briefing that in lieu of increased demand for hand sanitizer the state had begun producing its own solution, dubbed NYS Clean, at a fraction of the cost. The product was to be sent to governmental agencies, schools, prisons, and other organizations that "can't get it on the market" due to price gouging.
The sanitizer was being mass produced by Corcraft Products, Cuomo noted, which is the "brand name" for the Division of Correctional Industries in New York, and a company that uses inmate labor to manufacture a variety of goods ranging from metalworks to textiles to hygiene products.
"We are problem solvers, the state of New York, Empire State, progressive capital of the nation," Cuomo said before literally pulling back the curtain to display the product, which he affirmed was "made conveniently by the state of New York."
But that's simply not the case, according to a spokesperson for the prison system:
According to a [New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision's Division of Industries] spokesperson, the hand sanitizer itself is being produced by an outside vendor he would not name; the Great Meadow Facility is only bottling and labeling it. Neither NYSDOCCS nor the governor's office would respond to repeated questions about why the state would need to use prison labor to bottle hand sanitizer, nor did the governor's office respond to questions about Cuomo's pitch that this was a cheaper, more effective option than buying bottled hand sanitizer outright.
VICE also spoke to several inmate workers at Great Meadow Correctional Facility in Comstock, where "NYS Clean" is being "made," including one under the condition of anonymity who the outlet refers to as Michael. Michael also acknowledged that he and the other workers are simply bottling the solution.
The work, according to Michael, is relatively simple. He stands along an assembly line, turns a nozzle, and uses a hose to squirt sanitizer into gallon-sized bottles. He said other employees also stand or sit along the line, filling bottles of various sizes, but that the focus largely remains on filling the gallon-sized containers. Before, during, and after every shift, the workers are searched to ensure they do not bring anything into the workroom or take any sanitizer, which they are not even allowed to touch, with them when they leave.
Michael added that the workers have been instructed to bottle thousands of gallons of the solution daily, which the NYSDOCCS spokesperson said is brought in by truckload from an outside vendor several times a day.
During the unveiling earlier this month, Cuomo boasted that NYS Clean is "much cheaper for us to make it ourselves than to buy it on the open market" adding that "a gallon bottle is $6.10 [and] the 7-ounce bottle is $1.12."
He also said that the product is superior to other popular sanitizers on the market due to its 75% alcohol content (5% higher than Purell) and its "floral bouquet" scent.
"To Purell, and Mr. Amazon, and Mr. eBay, if you continue the price gouging, we will introduce our product [to the market], which is superior to your product," Cuomo jabbed at the major retailers. "And you don't even have the floral bouquet, so stop price gouging."