The female voices answering phones at the New York Department of Motor Vehicles could belong to women doing hard time. Inmates at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, the state’s only maximum-security prison for women, are staffing a DMV Call Center set up inside the gates. Using minimally paid inmate labor at Bedford and a second call center at the Arthur Kills men’s prison on Staten Island saves taxpayers about $3.5 million a year, state officials said.
“This program (provides) offenders with valuable and marketable skills that help them during incarceration and prepare them for successful reintegration into the community, while providing immediate and recurring savings to taxpayers,” state correction Commissioner Brian Fischer said in a statement.
The center employs 39 women who can make up to $1.14 an hour. All must have a high school or equivalency diploma and commit to working there for a year. Prisoners don’t have access to DMV computers or any license-holder information. Anyone convicted of a crime involving telephone, credit card or computer fraud can’t work in the center. Calls are monitored at random, state officials said.
Call center workers use information from the DMV to answer basic questions, including office hours and locations, ID requirements and what customers should bring to a DMV office. Anyone seeking more in-depth answers is transferred to a civilian DMV employee. Some inmates work as mail and supply clerks and assemble so-called Ready Packs of DMV forms, which are mailed to the public upon request. The Bedford Hills call center and the one that has been in operation at Arthur Kill since 1988 together are expected to handle about 1 million calls a year, state officials say.
“I happen to know one of the inmates in the college program was made a supervisor of the call center and she loves it,” said Robin Melen, a volunteer teacher with the Marymount Manhattan College program inside the 765-inmate facility. “They think, ‘Oh, when I get out, maybe I can get a job with DMV.’ They look at it as a steppingstone to what is outside.”
Bedford Hills houses or has housed many notorious female convicts.