Jim ButlerState Representative Jim Butler was appointed earlier this year to the Ohio House to replace State Senator Peggy Lehrer, who was appointed to replace State Senator Jon Husted, who still had two years left in his term when he was elected Secretary of State.

Jim Butler also just happens to be someone I got to know in law school really well, so forgive me if I appear to pull my punches.  But this is hard to pass up. 

From the Dayton Daily News:

State Rep. Jim Butler, R-Oakwood, said his plan would create secure facilities that are “more like a factory than a prison” where non-violent inmates would manufacture items like flat-screen televisions or cell phones. The factories would be overseen by state employees, he said, and the goods would be introduced into the market under contract with Ohio companies.

“I think it would do a great deal to lower the cost of incarceration,” Butler said. “It would have the potential to revolutionize the way we treat prisoners and deal with incarceration.”

Before you say “Chinese labor camps,”  State Representative Butler already has a response for you:

No for-profit company would be directly involved with inmates, he said. “We don’t want to have a private company that profits off of prison labor,” he said. The revenues would not be permitted to exceed 95 percent of the costs of incarceration because “you never want to get to a point where it’s profitable to incarcerate someone.”

State Representative Butler voted for the Kasich budget.  The one that privatizes five of Ohio’s state prisons… in which all the bidders are for-profit private prison companies.

The inmates would manufacture only items that aren’t built in the U.S. Past efforts to expand Ohio Penal Industries have run into opposition on the grounds that prison labor is unfair competition with American workers. But Butler said he sees no ethical reason not to compete with companies that have shipped jobs overseas.

I refuse to believe that with Ohio’s unemployment going up, we should give what should be high-paying manufacturing jobs and let the State profit by giving it to prison labor instead.  I refuse to believe that the only way we can have manufacturing in this State is through prison labor.

How does a for-profit company not profit from this bill?  They get a contract with the State to pay for prison labor.  The State’s revenues are  capped at 95% of the cost of incarceration which is $25,345 a year.  So for the price of $24,000 a worker, some Ohio company can produce cell phones and flat screen tvs using prison labor.  Don’t think that gives the company an ability to profit from prison labor?  Really?

No private company would pay the State for this unless it was cheaper than higher the employers and building (or renting) the factory themselves.  It’s naive to think that private companies aren’t profiting by these contracts simply because the State is getting the money and only to help defray the costs of incarceration.

The inmates would manufacture only items that aren’t built in the U.S. Past efforts to expand Ohio Penal Industries have run into opposition on the grounds that prison labor is unfair competition with American workers. But Butler said he sees no ethical reason not to compete with companies that have shipped jobs overseas.

Most inmates are incarcerated for drug-related crimes, not crimes of economic necessity (except for drug-related thefts.)  What good is training a prisoner a skill that he can only use … if he is incarcerated or moves to China?  I’m all for rehabilitation and providing inmates with the skills and assistance they might need to not re-offend.  But what’s the utility to them if it only gets them out early only to be trained for a job they cannot find in the private sector here?

I’m sorry, but if you’ve got to go this far to explain why this isn’t similar to a communist-style labor camp… then maybe it’s because it is too similar. Still, nothing like seeing a State Representative in the 21st Century advocate for a modern adaptations of the 17th Century workhouse.

First Collector: At this festive time of year, Mr. Scrooge, it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the poor and destitute.
Ebenezer: Are there no prisons?
First Collector: Plenty of prisons.
Ebenezer: And the union workhouses – are they still in operation?
First Collector: They are. I wish I could say they were not.
Ebenezer: Oh, from what you said at first I was afraid that something had happened to stop them in their useful course. I’m very glad to hear it.

First we privatized the prison.  Now, we privatize the prisoners. 

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