For more than a century now, prison work training programs and laborers have existed in Oregon state correctional institutions. They came into existence due to the two ballot measures of the 1990s.
This has led to local companies choosing to hire prison inmates for slave wages instead of paying living wages to people on the outside.
Oregon enacted laws that require this private company be allowed to use cheap prison labor to sell its goods throughout the state, limiting competition.
Ballot Measures that Created the Oregon Corrections Enterprise
In 1994, Measure 17 was passed by Oregon voters. It entailed that prisoners should work or get education for at least 40 hours a week. Oregon Corrections Enterprises (OCE) did not start until 1999 when Measure 68 was passed.
This mandated the selling of OCE products within the state, making it hard for others to compete. Because they pay extremely low wages to prison labor forces, their prices are too low to be competitive.
What is the OCE?
This is a state agency that is semi-independent. It reports all its activities to the Director of the Oregon Department of Corrections. The agency was built to be entirely self-sustaining.
This means that OCE manufacturing and selling its products is constitutional.
It is stated in the Oregon Constitution that:
Prison work products or services shall be available to any public agency … and shall be used as much as possible … to support other government operations.
According to the OCE’s annual report, they generated $28.5 million in 2017. This money was the total revenue made from 10 OCE locations around the state prison system.
The OCE trades in:
- Road signs made at the Ontario prison
- Garments sewn at East Oregon Correctional Institution in Pendleton
- Wood products constructed at Two Rivers Correctional Institution in Umatilla
- Metal products fabricated at a prison at Salem
Barb Cannard, the OCE spokeswoman, said that they always review all contracts it makes with public or private entities. This is to ensure the OCE does not compete with an existing vendor or business.
She says that the OCE has left deals that would have earned them millions due to such.
Jobs for Prison Inmates in Oregon: TRCI Woodshop
There are 40 inmates working at the TRCI woodshop. This woodshop resembles other industrial work floors.
The inmates have been divided to ensure all sections are covered. These sections are:
- Computer-assisted drafting
- Computer-assisted part manufacturing
Benefits of the Woodshop
The woodshop has had a number of benefits on the inmates. It has given them experiences and equipped them with skills that they can use once they are released.
Working at the woodshop has also helped to shape their characters thus giving them discipline.
The inmates also receive monetary payments for their labor. These payments are referred to as awards by the state. They use these awards to promote discipline in the institution.
Payments are determined by the Performance Recognition Awards System (PRAS). The system gives points to the inmates based on the complexity of the work they performed and their performance.
Each inmate is paid not less than $82 a month. They can also earn more in the event they reach certain performance levels, stay safe and have good behavior.
Oregon State Prison Certification Programs
Some inmates are eligible for Prison Industry Enhancement Certification Program. This is a program that pays the inmates for making products that are then sold to private businesses across state lines. An example of such a program is Prison Blues at Eastern Correctional Institution.
The inmates do not take away all the money they are paid from the program. They only keep 20% and the rest is split between child support, taxes, victim restitution and program costs.
PRAS also works on its deductions. They take out
- 10% for court-ordered, financial obligations
- 5% for a transitional savings account
- 5% for general victim fund
Finding a Job After Prison
Even with extensive job training in prison, it still may be hard to find a job after release. The stigma of having a felony on your record could be daunting.
Ban the Box has made strides to help felons find jobs in America. But, we still have a long way to go to help ex-cons earn living wages. This book can help.
The Felon’s 2019 Guide to Finding a Job & Becoming an Entrepreneur
Send your imprisoned loved one a paperback copy straight to the prison. Or, download an eBook copy for yourself today!