State wants to use inmate labor to build new women's prison in Wilsonville

Representatives from the Oregon State Building and Construction Trades Council met with representatives from the governor's office, attorney general's office, and Department of Corrections (DOC) Jan. 4 after learning that the DOC was poised to sign a contract with Hoffman Construction on the new Day Road women's prison in Wilsonville that called for 83,000 hours of work to be done by inmate labor.

"This is a total contradiction of Ballot Measure 68 that voters passed last November," said Bob Shiprack, executive secretary of the state building trades council. "We're going to raise holy hell if they try to go through with this."

Measure 68 - which voters approved by a rousing 406,526 to 289,407 margin (passing in every county in the state) - came from House Joint Resolution 82 referred by the 1999 Legislature.

The measure, sponsored by State Representative Dan Gardner, a member of Electrical Workers Local 48, amended the Oregon Constitution to protect employees of private sector businesses and certain government and non-profit agencies from having to compete with prison work programs (a result of a measure passed by voters in 1994 that requires all prisoners to work full time). Measure 68 also changed management of the prison work program from the Prison Industry Board (comprised of the governor, secretary of state and state treasurer) to the corrections director.

Shiprack said DOC wants to use 40 women inmates as laborers at the Day Road women's correctional institute. Using inmate labor was a requirement in submitting a bid, he said.

Under the DOC's interpretation of the new law no workers would be displaced because no jobs currently "exist" at the proposed construction site, only "potential" jobs, Shiprack said.

"That certainly wasn't the intent of the Legislature," Gardner said. "Under that interpretation every construction job in the world is a potential job."

The intent of the legislation, Gardner explained, was to "not displace law-abiding, tax-paying citizens with prison labor."

Shiprack said the Building Trades Council is "fully prepared to go the full legal route" to see that its interpretation is upheld.

The siting of the women's prison has taken years because of controversy surrounding its location in Wilsonville, where residents stopped it from being built at the old Dammasch Hospital.

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