When you are sentenced to jail, it does not necessarily mean that you will be locked in a cell 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Unless you have a history of ultra-violence and are in a SuperMax or maximum security prison, chances are you’ll be assigned a job detail or required to take classes.
When you are assigned a job detail, the type of work you get and the type of work you perform will depend on the facility you are in, your security level and available opportunities. So let’s answer today’s question: What kind of labor does the prison let the prisoners do?
In this blog post, I will cover the following topics:
- There are three types of prison labor
- What kind of job assignment is “housework”?
- Where do prisoners work during their “work release”?
- some inmates work for the prison industry
- Do prisons still use chains?
- Should prison labor be abolished?
There are three types of prison labor
In 21st century America, there are three main types of prison labor: inside jobs, working release programs, and the prison industry. Prisoners assigned to inside jobs perform work within the prison walls.
Those assigned to the work release program are allowed to leave the facility on weekdays, usually under supervision. Finally, those who work for the prison industry produce goods and provide services for profit.
What kind of work assignment is “internal labor”?
Prisons are essentially small communities that use prisoner labor to keep facilities running. In-house job tasks include food service, laundry, building maintenance, landscaping, cleaning services, and electrical services.
Inmates with a high school diploma can work as tutors or assistants in educational programs, churches, or recreation areas.
Having a facility to operate a farm, garden or power plant would also provide inmate work opportunities. Anything that operates within prison walls usually has at least one inmate job detail.
The wage rates that these jobs bring do vary by state and facility. But typically, prisoners are usually paid a few cents an hour. In the prison where I was incarcerated, an average full-time job paid $15 a month.
Where do prisoners work during their “work release”?
Prisoners who fall under the working release program are assigned to work outside the prison. In the facility where I was incarcerated, job release opportunities included the Department of Transportation (collecting litter at the side of the road) and the local nursing home (CNA).
Job release opportunities depend on the facility. They are usually in government agencies – federal, state and local. Sometimes prisoners can work for local businesses or volunteer at local charities.
Working released prisoners usually earn minimum wage (at least), but must use that money to pay court costs, reparations, and room and board. Any money prisoners save working in the working release program can be taken home when they are released.
some inmates work for the prison industry
The topic of working in the prison industry can be very controversial. Prison industries are usually private companies that contract prisons to have prisoners produce products or provide profit-making services.
It’s a multibillion-dollar industry, with incarcerated people doing everything from building office furniture and manufacturing military equipment to staffing call centers and doing 3D modeling.
according to Corporate Responsibility Lab“Exceed 4,100 companies Profiting from mass incarceration in the US.These companies include private prisons, which hold valuable government contracts, have Minimum Bed Guarantee and a fixed price per prisonerprivate company Stock overpriced commissary and provide phone service, and private companies that use prison labor in their supply chains. “
The Prison Industry Enhancement Certification Program (PIECP) is a federal program that allows incarcerated persons in eligible state and local facilities to perform a range of jobs in the community, such as factory work assembling and packaging products.
Even though these jobs are provided by for-profit private companies (who share revenue with the prison), that doesn’t mean prisoners earn minimum wage. Sometimes, they only make a dollar or two a day. These are at the high-paying end of prison work, with reported average hourly wages ranging from $0.33 to $1.41 in 2017. Prison Policy Initiative.
Even if inmates earn $50 or $100 a month in full-time employment, their wages are eaten up by taxes, expensive phone bills, and overpriced commissary.
It’s hard to know exactly how big the prison labor industry is because economic data are hard to find. A comprehensive national prison census has not been conducted since 2005. At the time, it was estimated that nearly 1.5 million detainees were working, including 600,000 in manufacturing.
Do prisons still use chains?
A chain gang is a group of prisoners who are chained together to perform challenging physical labor as a form of punishment while serving their sentence. The work may include everything from repairing buildings to repairing roads to clearing land.
Chain gangs were often used by prison labor in the 19th and early 20th centuries, but were generally discontinued in the 1950s. However, over the past 25 years they have been reintroduced in a handful of facilities in the South. However, they are often criticized and sometimes sued.
Chain gangs are extremely rare these days, as the practice is often seen as “commercial slavery”.
Should prison labor be abolished?
When the 13th Amendment was passed after the Civil War, it included a loophole that allowed prisons to pay people below the minimum wage. Abolitionists argue that this created a form of modern-day slavery.
Section 1 of the 13th Amendment states, “Slavery or involuntary servitude shall not exist in or under the jurisdiction of the United States except as punishment for an offense for which the person shall be duly convicted.”
In other words, while slavery was prohibited, it could legally be used as punishment for the incarcerated. If prisoners are paid properly — and not spending all their money on room, board and fees — it will help them settle on their own upon release.
Do you think prison labor should be abolished? Let us know in the comments below.
Sources: People Are Calling To Abolish Prison Labor. Here's What That Actually Means The Uncounted Workforce PRIVATE COMPANIES PRODUCING WITH US PRISON LABOR IN 2020: PRISON LABOR IN THE US, PART II