Text Size:   A+ A- A   •   Text Only
Site Image

Inmate Work Crew Information
Supporting Oregon Communities
Inmate work crews travel to work sites within a 90-mile radius of the institution to do manual and skilled labor such as forestry work, parks maintenance, landscaping, building maintenance, roofing and painting, right-of-way maintenance, clean-up, litter pick-up, limited construction, and other projects for government and private sector customers.  Contracts for crews range from one day to several weeks.
Only minimum custody inmates comprise outside work crews.  A large percentage of Oregon's inmates are classified as minimum custody.  More criteria are applied before an inmate is eligible for outside work crews (see Work Crew Composition).  Crews generally consist of a correctional officer and ten inmates.

Inmate Work Assignments
Inmate Work Crew  
Inmate Work Crew
Inmates residing at Columbia River Correctional Institution are required and expected to work.  To that end, Work Crews are formed and subsequently employed by many public agencies, organizations and private businesses throughout the greater Tri-County area.
The Prison Reform and Inmate Work Act (Ballot Measure 17) was passed by Oregon voters in November 1994 and is now part of Article 1 of the Oregon Constitution.  This amendment requires that inmates "should work as hard as the taxpayers who provide their upkeep" and "inmates confined within corrections institutions must be fully engaged in productive activity."  Both work and productive activities are strongly emphasized for inmates at Columbia River Correctional Institution.

Work Crew Composition
Inmates at work  
Inmates at work
Inmates assigned to work crews are very low risk.  Their assignments are evaluated on a case by case basis and they can be excluded if they don´t meet certain criteria.  DOC looks at:
  • previous escapes from prison or from a work crew;
  • any major rule violations resulting in segregation sanctions;
  • whether or not the inmate is a sex offender
    (including the prior history/nature of offense);
  • whether his/her crime was assaultive or he/she threatened violence;
  • felony detainers (INS, U.S. Marshall, another state);
  • any detainer for person to person crime;
  • negative psychological evaluation;
  • whether inmate is high profile or of significant community interest;
  • custody level (must be minimum custody and within 3 years to a release date).
Communities currently using inmate labor include Baker City, Salem, Portland, Tillamook, North Bend, Ontario, Umatilla, and their surrounding areas.
In 2001 through 2003 inmates worked a total of 409,000 crew hours, which equates to 46,201 crew days. 
There were three walk-aways from work crews in 2001 through 2003, and all were captured and returned to DOC custody.

Employing Work Crews
Inmates working at a State Park  
Inmates working at a State Park
The following Oregon State Agencies and businesses currently employ Inmate Work Crews for their respective labor needs:
  • Oregon Military Department
  • Oregon Department of Transportation
  • Oregon State Hospital
  • Oregon Parks and Recreation Department
  • Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife
  • Oregon Department of Forestry
  • U.S. Forest Service
  • Port Of Portland Airports Division
  • Portland City Parks
  • Tillamook Public Utility Department
Contact us about Inmate Work Crews:
                     Kristine Bustos
                    (971) 673-3540

The Economics of Work Crews
The DOC's goal for the use of inmate work crews is to reduce the overall costs of operating government or be used productively by the private sector.

The department developed an accurate system to determine how much to charge for work crews and recoup its actual expenses. The standard rate for a 7-10-man crew with supervisor is $535.00 a day. In the past, some crews have worked for government agencies at reduced rates depending upon General Fund support of the officers who supervise those crews.

History of Work Crews
Inmates in Oregon have always worked.  Inmate labor has been used in a variety of capacities, ranging from making bricks for the first permanent penitentiary in 1866, to milling jute for flax processing, to mining lime for fertilizer.  Inmate labor has also supported the operation and maintenance of correctional institutions in areas such as food services, laundry, physical plant maintenance, and janitorial services.  Even then, the primary goals were to reduce inmate idleness, reduce costs, and teach skills to inmates.  Sales of products and services were targeted only to government agencies, and profitability was not a primary goal.

Measure 17 - November 1994
Believing that inmates should work at least as hard as the law-abiding citizens who pay taxes for their support, Oregonians voted, through the initiative process, to require inmates to be at work or in on-the-job training programs 40 hours each week.  1994's Measure 17 began as follows:
(1) Whereas the people of the state of Oregon find and declare that inmates who are confined in corrections institutions should work as hard as the tax-payers who provide for their upkeep; and whereas the people also find and declare that inmates confined within corrections institutions must be fully engaged in productive activity if they are to successfully re-enter society with practical skills and a viable work ethic; now, therefore, the people declare:
(2) All inmates of state corrections institutions shall be actively engaged full-time in work or on-the-job training.  The work or the on-the-job training programs shall be established and overseen by the corrections director, who shall ensure that such programs are cost effective and are designed to develop inmate motivation, work capabilities and cooperation.  Such programs may include boot camp prison programs.  Education may be provided to inmates as part of work or on-the-job training so long as each inmate is engaged at least half-time in hands-on training or work activity
--Oregon Constitution, Sec. 41.
The mandates of that constitutional amendment, commonly referred to as "Measure 17", became the primary focus of all inmate work and workforce development activities.  The measure required the DOC's Inmate Work Programs to operate in a "businesslike fashion," generate revenues for the private sector or reduce the costs of government.  It also allowed competition with the private sector.  In essence, the department was told to build a viable workforce of inmate workers.
The value of education was specifically identified in Measure 17; in fact, up to half of inmates' full-time work requirement could be satisfied through participation in job preparedness training.  The department renewed its emphasis on workforce development activities such as basic education, treatment and training programs related to developing job skills.
"Compliance" with the mandate now in the constitution is measured as the percentage of inmates meeting that 40-hour-a-week work and/or job preparedness training requirement.  Measure 17 implementation requires that inmates' lives be increasingly centered around their work days, resulting in fundamental changes in the way institutions are run, and challenging the department to do the business of corrections differently.