Scott Bauer of the AP is reporting Republican U.S. Senate candidate Ron Johnson employs inmates from the Wisconsin State Prison system at two of his plants in Oshkosh:
Public records show that Pacur Inc. and Dynamic Drinkware LLC, two companies run by Johnson, employ up to nine inmates at a time through a state Corrections Department jobs program.
Johnson’s companies offer private health insurance to the regular employees at the Oshkosh factories. But Melissa Roberts, an executive assistant with the Corrections Department, said the companies don’t have to cover the inmate workers. “The benefit is that they don’t have to pay health benefits,” she said.
Health industry statistics indicate that companies spend an average of about $10,000 per worker a year for insurance.
The Johnson campaign said the candidate was not available to comment Friday because he was preparing for his debate later that evening with Feingold. But campaign spokeswoman Sara Sendek said his companies hire inmates as a public service.
Saving money “was not a factor by any means,” she said. “The factor was, this is a way to help put these people on the path back to recovery so they could contribute and work their way back into society.”
Democrats were quick to attack Johnson’s practice of hiring inmates at his plants, with Democratic Party Chairman Mike Tate saying, “Instead of employing hardworking Wisconsinites he’s employing prisoners.” Tate added, “It’s another example of him taking advantage of government programs to help his bottom line. It’s the height of hypocrisy for someone who claims to be a job creator.”
While I’ve been critical of Ron Johnson on any number of occasions, in this instance I actually applaud Ron Johnson for giving a chance to individuals who in many cases are shunned by society. While Jason Haas of Haas414 brings up a valid point about whether Johnson hires former inmates upon their release from prison, I’d argue that whether Johnson hires former inmates or not, giving current inmates a chance to build a work history and put away money to be used towards their (hopefully successful) reintegration into society. Whatever Ron Johnson’s motivation for hiring inmate workers may be, giving inmates a chance that they may not have otherwise had is good for the inmates and good for society.