Prison Labor in United States by: Lyla paiz

How does the prison industry work in America ?
September 9th 2016 this photo was taken at a prison strike to protest the low wages given to workers in prison. this picture was taken by Alex Milan Tracy

Coming into this research, I knew nothing about prison labor. Therefore, I found some evidence that have helped me summarize this topic. Vicky Pelaez, from News website Global research, quoted from the Progressive Labor Party that “The private contrasting of prisoners for work fosters incentives to lock people up. Prisoners depend on this income.Corporate stockholders who make money off prisoners’ work lobby for longer sentences, in order to expand their workforce. The system feeds itself.” This quotes explains that corporate companies make their money off of prisoners and use prisoners to expand their company. Author Beth Buczynski from website truth out, reveals that “In late 2013, a new report from In the Public Interest (ITPI) revealed that private prison companies are striking deals with states that contain clauses guaranteeing high prison occupancy rates-sometimes 100 percent. This means that states agree to supply prison corporations with a steady flow of residents-whether or not that level of criminal activity exists.” the prison industry has made prisoners money making slaves and a products to the money industry. Also, Buczynski mentions that “The worst part is that once captured by the prison industry, inmates are forced to work for pennies and hour, providing cheap labor for some of the most profitable enterprises in the world, including the U.S. Military.” To sum up, Inmates are a product to the prison industry and are used for companies to make their money without receiving very little benefit.

Does the prison industry programs benefit the inmates working?

Prison labor has been a big problem for a while now; inmates aren't getting paid enough for the work they do for our normal, everyday life, things like for an example underwear, clothes, license plates, furniture, etc. The Guardian newspaper writer Sarah Shemkus states that “opponents, however, say these programs verge on enslavement, with inmates paid meager wages and denied the benefits and protections a civilian job would provide.” Shemkus also pointed out that “in the federal prison system, for example, the pay range is between $0.12 and $0.40 per hour. A few states do not require prisoners to be paid at all”. Prisoners are not getting paid the same way we do just because they are locked up in a facility. Blog post Connect Network agrees with prison industry programs and quotes “According to a study by the National Institute of Justice, inmates who have the opportunity to engage in prison work programs while incarcerated have an easier time getting work once they are released.” Although it can help with work outside when they are released, they still need money for once they get out to support themselves, family, and any bills they have. In summary, prisoners are being treated like slaves and these jobs aren't treating prisoners like the real hard workers they are.

Can inmates sue the prison or corporate companies for bad conditions ?

Prisoners lose a lot of their civil rights going into prison but they [prisoners] do maintain their constitutional rights. On Free Advice Legal page, Free Advice staff say “If an inmate believes that their rights have been violated, they may take action against the prison in court. However, an inmate may not file a lawsuit against the prison without going through the steps designated by the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA).” This means that prisoners can take action into court but can not file a lawsuit because they have to go through very precise steps. Free Advice also added that “The PLRA, enacted in 1996, made it harder for an inmate to file a direct suit against the prison. As a result of the act, inmates now must follow strict guidelines to file grievances.” Like the quote says, PLRA make it harder for inmates to make a stand of any violations made towards them. Also, Jaeah Lee from Mother Jones newspaper says “ most inmates have little recourse but to represent themselves. The law further discourages lawyers from taking their suits by capping damages and recoverable costs. “There were never a whole lot of lawyers doing this in the first place,’ says David Rudovsky, a civil rights attorney in Philadelphia.” Not only does the PLRA make it harder for inmates to file a lawsuit but it's also hard to find a lawyer since you have little resources in jail to prove that your rights were violated. To summarize, inmates can sue for having bad conditions and having their rights violated but the PLRA makes it harder for inmates to do so and most lawyers won't take the case since inmates can only provide little to no evidence.

Is prison labor similar to slavery ?

Reading some articles, most have compared slavement and prison labor together in a lot of ways. It raised some questions, does prison labor really compare to slavery? Chandra Bozelko, from National Review News post, stated that “Redefining prison labor as legal employment could reform the system in meaningful and lasting ways, more effectively than trying to convince people that it’s slavery. Certainly, prison labor walks and quacks like slavery.” Bozelko is saying that if you hear quacking and feet clapping on the floor it's most likely a duck that you hear, the author is trying to say that prison labor sounds and looks like slavery. I came across an article on the atlantic news website called “American Slavery, Reinvented”, and Whitney Benns [Author] placed a documentary called “Angola for Life: Rehabilitation and Reform Inside the Louisiana State Penitentiary” and in the video a man steps in the most “violent maximum-security prison in the nation” and he said “Once a prison doctor clears an inmate for work, that prisoners got a job whether they like it or not. Some of the prisoners get paid as little as 2 cents an hour.” This video summarized that the angola prison treated their prisoners like slaves and not normal human beings since most won't even get out of prison so they lose most civil rights going into prison. In general, prison labor is mostly compared to slavery because it does look and sound like slavery.

Will prison labor stop in the future?

In the country and society we live in, we are not afraid to speak or let our voices be told so i definitely think there will be a stop to prison labor. On The Intercept news website, author alice speri, talks about how “For months, inmates at dozen of prisons across the country have been organizing through a network of smuggles cellphones, social media pages, and the support of allies on the outside.” This evidence just shows that these prisoners are strong enough to get their voices heard and to get their point across. What these prisoners have been doing is organizing a strike and author Hannah Kozlowska, from news website Quartz, tells in her article that “Prison inmates across the US will participate in what organizers are touting as the “largest prison strike in history,” stopping work in protest of what many call a modern version of slavery.” in 2016 prisoners made one of the largest prison strikes in history and it has gotten around to other inmates all over the US because of communication and coming together as a whole to prove that they will no longer be a slave to prison labor. Eventually, in the future the government and prisons will fix this because they don't want the bad rep that the inmates are putting out there.


Corporate- relating to a large company or group

Industry- economic activity concerned with the processing of raw materials and manufacture of goods in factories

Rehabilitating : in prison this means getting prisoners into a work place so they can function in normal society. The dictionary definition is to restore someone to a healthy or normal life by training and therapy.

Constitution- a body of fundamental principles or established precedents according to which a state or other organization is acknowledged to be governed.

Labor- hard physical work

Constitutional- relating to an established set of principles governing a state

PLRA- a U.S. federal legislation that was enacted in 1996 to restrict and discourage litigation by prisoners

Stockholders- An individual, group, or organization that holds one or more shares in a company, and in whose name the share certificate is issued. Also called shareholder


Winter, Caroline. “What do prisoners make for victoria's secret?” Mother Jones. July/August 2008

Pelaez, Vicky. “The Prison Industry in the United States: Big Business or a New Form of Slavery?” Global Research. 28 August 2016

Buczynski, Beth. “Shocking Facts About America's For-Profit Prison Industry” Truthout. 9 February 2014.

Shemkus, Sarah. “Beyond cheap labor: can prison work programs benefit inmates?” 9 December 2015.

Sloan, Bob. “INSOURCING - Identifying businesses involved in prison labor or supporting those who are” 14 Dec 2010.

Burrows, Sara. “How Prison Labor is the New American Slavery and Most of Us Unknowingly Support it” 13 June 2016.

Kozlowska, Hannah. “US prisoners are going on strike to protest a massive forced labor system” Quartz. 9 Sept. 2016


Benns, Whitney. “American Slavery, Reinvented” The Atlantic. 21 Sept. 2015.


Created with images by jodylehigh - "prison fence razor ribbon wire"

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