In February 2010, Ohio Penal Industries (OPI) announced it planned to close several prison industry programs and reduce its prisoner work force from 1,554 to 1,269 due to budget cuts. Previously, OPI stated in December 2009 that it was discontinuing its wood office furniture operation as part of “additional cost-savings measures.”
Industry jobs are highly sought after by Ohio prisoners, as they pay between $.21 and $1.23 an hour and provide work skills and experience that can be used to help find post-release employment if the prisoners are ever released. Participation in prison industry programs is tied to a reduction in recidivism, from an overall rate of 38% to just 18% for OPI workers. However, those figures are questionable since some prison industry workers are lifers who will either never be released or will be too old to work when they are released.
Industry jobs performed by Ohio prisoners include manufacturing toilet paper, making dentures, crafting eyeglasses, producing institutional clothing, milking dairy cows and slaughtering cattle. The slaughterhouse operation at the Pickaway Correctional Institution supplies 3.7 million pounds of meat per year to Ohio’s prison system, saving the state $3.3 million.
OPI also manufactures both Ohio and U.S. flags, at a rate of almost 3,000 flags annually. Prisoners who work on the “flag line” are paid $.57 an hour; the flags sell on OPI’s website for between $33 and $51 each.
At the OPI’s eyeglasses manufacturing operation at the Ohio Reformatory for Women, 22 workers make over 520 pairs of glasses for Ohio prisoners each month. Likewise, the toilet paper manufacturing facility at the Belmont Correctional Institution saves the state money by supplying the prison system and some highway rest areas with toilet paper.
Thus, the reduction in industry jobs may be penny-wise but pound-foolish, both in terms of reduced recidivism rates for OPI workers and cost savings to the state resulting from products produced by prison industry programs. Of course, such savings are only possible because OPI workers are paid far below the minimum wage. Whether the figures provided by the state are accurate is another matter. Every state to audit its prison industry operations invariably concludes most of the products can be bought on the open market at a lower cost. While the prisoners are paid a pittance, the bloated bureaucracy of prison industries, the civilian supervisors and the guard force are not. Hence any savings tend to be illusory at best.
Following the closure of eight OPI programs, 24 prison industries still operate in Ohio’s prison system, including the flag manufacturing operation.
Sources: www.dispatchpolitics.com, Associated Press, www.opi.state.oh.us
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