Fact or Fiction: Are U.S Prisoners Manufacturing Solar Panels? 1

For the past few months stories about escalating solar trade tensions between the US and China have dominated the headlines. During this time Oregon Senator Ron Wyden has emerged as a passionate and vocal advocate for US solar manufacturing facilities, as he should considering SolarWorld’s Oregon plant employs a lot of the Senator’s constituents.

However, in focusing so much attention on alleged trade violations by the Chinese government and its solar companies, has Senator Wyden overlooked a solar manufacturing facility in Oregon, owned by the US government that is undercutting American solar manufacturing facilities through the use of cheap prison labor:

Federal Prison Industries has traditionally relied on office furniture, electronics and clothing manufacturing for the bulk of its business, but it has been moving into new industries like renewable energy. Inmates do not install solar panels, but assemble them; when fully operational, the plants in Otisville, NY, and Sheridan, OR, can employ about 400 inmates and produce 75 megawatts worth of panels a year. Federal Prison Industries, also known as UNICOR, does not have to worry much about its overhead. It uses prisoners for labor, paying them 23 cents to $1.15 an hour.

Original Article on No More Naked Roofs

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1 Comment

  1. As for opinion, I’m mixed. I’m a recent Wind Turbine Technician graduate looking for work. So I understand the frustrations.

    I also realize that too many HARD criminals are being released due to overcrowding, so if this gets more prisoners integrated into society as functioning, taxpaying members (instead of taxpayers supporting them), that’s less space being occupied by them (meaning less improper releases due to overcrowding) and less cost to taxpayers to support them.

    That said, I do believe that they should diversify their manufacturing, so as not to make a major impact on any given sector and that they should NOT get preference over other manufacturers. If we bring some of the jobs back from China (using cheaper labor costs here, instead of there, as well as saving on shipping), we could accomplish a couple of goals. Cheaper products that are made here, helping lighten the prison load and cost, as well as not having as major an impact on taxpayer jobs.

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