Work-style blue jeans and jackets manufactured by incarcerated persons at an Oregon state prison generated sales of over $2 million last year and attracted buyers from as far away as Britain and Japan, reported the Wall Street Journal on April 13.
The denim attire is called Prison Blues and goes by the slogan “Made on the INSIDE to be worn on the OUTSIDE.” The brand is manufactured at the Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution, a medium-security prison with a population of about 1,600 in Pendleton, Ore.
The rugged and value-price clothing with the catchy slogan has caught the attention of hip youngsters, particularly in Japan.
“The Japanese market is creating some new fashion trend with Prison Blues,” said Jered McMichael, whose company, Correction Connection, generated over $600,000 in revenue from Prison Blues products in 2021.
Tokyo resident Imachi Hayami, 25, a clothing store employee, praised the “tough fabric, rivets and button design” of its double-kneed garment. Hayami wears Prison Blues pants along with Red Wing shoes and Camber sweatshirts. He added that the Prison Blues brand has fans among Japanese who “deeply like jeans.”
The Journal said that besides Prison Blues, Oregon Corrections Enterprises (OCE) produces various wood furniture, office seating, and upholstery inside Oregon’s 14 prisons. While it is prevented by law from producing goods that could take away sales from domestic private businesses in competitive markets, OCE has permission to enter any non-competitive market. Most American clothing manufacturers had outsourced production abroad, making American-made clothing an acceptable product for OCE.
For incarcerated persons who make the garments, employment at Prison Blues has advantages. Prison Blues worker Benjamin Breazille called it “probably one of the best jobs you can get” in the state’s prison system. After deductions, he nets about $330 a month, which is five times as much as the maximum pay for typical incarcerated workers in Oregon, reported the Journal.
OCE program manager Jennifer Starbuck said her program paid incarcerated manufacturing workers prevailing wages but deducted about 80% for taxes, victim restitution, partial costs of incarceration, and, if applicable, child support.
Breazille’s job has enabled him to pay over $13,000 in back child support and will likely parole with $2,000 in savings, said the article.
Prison Blues general manager Scott Bartholomew said Prison Blues employees “leave with an awful lot more than what they came in with,” indicating that the experience gained at Prison Blues helps parolees find manufacturing jobs. The Journal interviewed two incarcerated Prison Blues workers who both expect to use the skills gained at Prison Blues upon release.
The Prison Blues’ products include straight-legged jeans that sell for $38.25 and a four-pocket “yard” coat priced at $54.75.
The Journal reported that a website run by McMichael’s company markets the jeans to “people who work harder than they play!!!” The site touted the Prison Blues’ jacket as, “Great for all kinds of chores!”