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Ohio Prison Industry Profits Increasing

According to a report released by the Correctional Institution Inspection Committee, the profits for Ohio Penal Industries (OPI) increased to $7.8 million in fiscal year (FY) 2013, the fourth straight year of increasing profitability. OPI operates 21 programs at 14 prisons throughout the state.

In 2009, OPI had a record $4.6 million loss. What followed was a change in philosophy from keeping unprofitable industries going to provide prisoners with work experience to canning industries that failed to show a profit. Eight unprofitable prison industry shops were closed by February 2010.

In FY 2012, only 11 of the 25 shops were making money. By FY 2013, 18 of the 21 remaining shops were in the black. The programs losing money in FY 2013 were the vehicle service center (-$144,000), woodworking at Ross Correctional Institution (-$124,000) and modular furniture assembly at Madison Correctional Institution (-$31,000). The woodworking program has since been cancelled, but the modular furniture program had just moved from another prison and the vehicle service center was newly opened and they were not yet expected to be profitable.

The programs making the most money in FY 2013 were the meat processing center ($2,100,529) and beverage processing center ($890,576), both at Pickaway Correctional Institute, and the license plate production shop ($869,192) at Lebanon Correctional Institution.

As the shops were closed, the number of prisoners employed by OPI shrank from 23,579 in FY 2009 to 18,425 in FY 2013. However, the number of employed prisoners has increased each year since FY 2011. This is important because prisoners employed in OPI programs, who are paid an average of 35 cents an hour, have a lower recidivism rate than those not employed.

OPI is heavily reliant on the prison system and other state government agencies for customers. 72% of sales were to the prison system, 19% to other state agencies and only 8% to private industries. This is largely due to a law requiring state agencies to purchase OPI goods unless better quality goods at lower prices can be found on the free market. The poor quality of prison-made goods ranging from toilet paper to cleaning chemicals and furniture is what led to the profitability crisis in FY 2009 when state agencies turned away from 0PI*s increasing costs and declining quality. This led to the closure of unprofitable programs and stricter attention being paid to the quality of OPI goods and services.

Some businesses criticize OPI for maintaining an unfair advantage in the market by paying prisoners only a tiny fraction of minimum wage.

According to the Correctional Institution Inspection Committee’s most recent biennial report, released in 2015, the Committee found that “access to vocational education programs and inmate participation in Ohio Penal Industries jobs should be improved. These are key skill-development programs that will assist inmates in finding jobs post-release.”


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