The Business of Prisons

OPB | March 10, 2008 midnight | Updated: Sept. 10, 2013 8:40 p.m.

How are prisons affecting your local economy?

One in one hundred Americans are currently incarcerated, according to a new report from Pew Research Center. That same report found that Oregon spends a larger percentage of its state budget on corrections than any other state. So what are we getting for that money? Some companies are getting cheap (below minimum wage) labor in exchange for training inmates. Those who argue in favor of this system say this is a way for the prisoners to learn marketable skills. In fact, the Oregon constitution requires inmates to do some sort of work. (See section 41.)

These institutions don’t exist in isolation. They’re located near populated areas. So what does it mean to have a prison in your community? The central Oregon city of Madras expected a big economic boost when a prison opened four miles outside of town. The Deer Ridge Correctional Institution did bring 200 new jobs when the minimum security wing of the facility opened in September, but according to Deer Ridge Community Development Coordinator Parrish Van Wert, fewer than 50% of those new employees live in Madras.

Is there a prison in or near where you live? What effect has that had on the local economy? Is Oregon’s approach to incarceration — and prison labor — good for our state’s financial health?

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