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Ohio Offshore Industries Project

In the state governments effort to market prisoners as cheap labor it has unveiled the Ohio Offshore Industries Project. This marketing campaign offers companies a vast pool of cheap prison labor as an attractive alternative to foreign based production. Companies have been moving overseas to take advantage of cheap labor, and the government hopes to keep these companies in the U.S. or lure them back by offering prison laborers. Overall this project is an effort to stop economic decline, and it also helps reduce the cost of imprisonment.

Ohios Department of Corrections (ODOC) has entered into a contract to supply space and laborers to a private firm called Unibase. Unibase is a data processing company that has eighteen of these work programs in prisons across the country.

The work involves entering data into computers, and prisoners are paid a base rate of $0.47 an hour, plus an incentive pay based on keying speed.  The incentive pay rate has been lowered continuously to a point where workers can not key in data fast enough to earn more than the base pay of $0.47 an hour. Unibase is attracted to this cheap labor, and knows that prisoners cannot legally organize unions, and are not covered by Workers Compensation or the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Prisoners cant voice complaints except at the risk at incurring the arbitrary discipline of prison officials, and can be hired, fired or temporarily laid off at will.

At the Lebanon Correctional Institution, Unibase has the highest disciplinary rate of any job assignment. Prisoners working for Unibase forfeit educational, treatment and religious programs. Unibase workers at Lebanon must even forgo laundry services because the laundry schedule interferes with the Unibase workers schedule. They have difficulty getting showers or going to commissary for the same reason. Verbal abuse and harassment of Unibase workers are a daily occurrence.

Prison officials are telling the public that this type of work program is helping the economy by preventing the loss of U.S. jobs to cheap foreign labor markets. They say they arent taking jobs away from U.S. workers on the outside, but creating new jobs for staff and supervisors.  However, before Unibase opened the work program at the Lebanon prison, the same general manager who runs that program closed a data processing office in Kentucky and let go all of the workers. The equipment and work was brought directly from the closed Kentucky office to the prison in Ohio. So, in at least this case, it did cost free U.S. workers their jobs.

Ohio prison officials will continue to market cheap prison labor to any company that shows interest, and has plans to expand the Ohio Offshore Industries Project to Community Correctional Facilities.  This will enable the state to offer prison labor directly to factories on the outside.

The concept of exploiting prisoners as a cheap form of labor is not new, and serves no rehabilitative purpose. It actually makes it harder to break the cycle of poverty and imprisonment by taking real wage jobs away from real world workers. Anyone who wants more information about this concept, or who would like to write a letter of protest can write or call:

510 West Parkland Drive
Sandy, UT 84070
(801) 567-5000
fax: (801) 567-5003  

[Editors Note: Dan Cahill receives a one year gift subscription for publication of this terrific article. We would like information from other U.S. prisoners about the expansion of this type of prison/industry partnership to exploit U.S. prison labor. Here in the state of Washington, a bill was passed mandating the expansion of prison industries, with a yearly goal schedule for the number of prisoners to be employed. The Washington State Reformatory has recently opened a large new industries building connected to the prison through a gate in the back wall. The state has been actively enticing private industries to move into the vacant factory space. Typically in this type of partnership, the industrialists get cheap, exploitable labor and extremely cheap leases on the prison factory space. The Department of Corrections receives some kind of a kick-back for the labor, either in the form of direct payment from the industry or by deducting "Cost of Corrections" from the workers pay.  By using this second method, industries who are required to pay at least minimum wage by the FLSA can give the appearance of doing just that.  Prisoners are "paid" the minimum wage and the DOC deducts 50 - 80% for cost of corrections. Its a sweet deal for the industrialists and the DOC, at least as long as the factories and their equipment operate smoothly.]

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