Ohio Prison Work Keeps Inmates Occupied, But at What Price?


The Columbus Dispatch concludes that inmate labor costs Ohio more than it saves. Ohio Penal Industries, a branch of the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, uses inmates to manufacture such things as toilet paper, license plates, flags, office furniture, brooms, clothing, corrugated boxes, dentures, eyeglasses, hand soap, mops, office binders and outdoor furnishings. State agencies often are required by law to buy from Penal Industries, even if the prices are not always competitive.

For example, inmate-processed toilet paper sells for $48.96 for a case of 96 rolls, 15 percent more than the price offered by a private firm in Cleveland. Ohio Penal Industries sells 33-gallon trash bags in quantities of 250 for $13.39 to prisons and the Ohio Department of Transportation. The state’s private vendor offers comparable bags for $7.30, a 45 percent savings. Penal Industries says it is working to make prices for its products more competitive. It has grown from an inmate busy-work program into a business with $26 million in annual sales, 24 manufacturing sites in 16 prisons, 1,400 inmate workers and 120 civilian employees. Prisoners are paid from 21 cents an hour for entry-level laborers to $1.23 an hour for skilled positions, such as mechanics who service state vehicles.


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