The American approach to incarceration swings between punishment and rehabilitation, often depending on the mood of the electorate. The prevailing attitude, at least in the great state of Oregon, is one of frustration with what looks like a free ride (“three hots and a cot”) for inmates, while hard-working taxpayers support them. It was in this climate that the Oregon Department of Corrections, using federal grant monies, built a 37,000 square foot garment factory in 1989.
Made on Inside to be worn on Outside
Inmates at the Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution produce the Prison Blues line of denim shirts, jeans, jackets and accessories, earning money and developing practical work skills. Inmates must demonstrate good conduct and maintain a level of quality and productivity to keep a Prison Blue job. Inmates earn the prevailing industry wage, with incentive bonuses. Eighty percent of their wages are withheld for taxes, victim restitution, family support and to offset the cost of incarceration. Nonetheless the jobs are highly desirable among the inmate population; there is a three-year waiting list just be interviewed. Inmates participating in Oregon’s Inmate Work Programs have rate of recidivism lower than the national average.
The Prison Blues factory was briefly shutdown in 1996 due to conflicts between state and federal wage laws, which were subsequently resolved when Oregon voters passed Ballot Measure 49 in 1997. Measure 49 requires the Oregon Department of Corrections to put all eligible inmates to work, to operate in a businesslike manner and develop partnerships in the private sector.
Prison Blues is trademarked by the State of Oregon. Garments and accessories are marketed by the Array Corporation, part of the Yoshida Group. Products are available for purchase at retail outlets in the US, Germany, Italy and Japan, as well as at the official Prison Blues web site, http://www.prisonblues.com/
Source: The Official Prison Blues Web Site http://www.prisonblues.com/