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June 15, 2022

Notable new ACLU report on prison labor in the United States

This ACLU press release provides a summary of this notable new report from the ACLU and the University of Chicago Law School Global Human Rights Clinic concerning prison labor in the US.  Here is a excerpt:

The first-of-its-kind report, Captive Labor: Exploitation of Incarcerated Workers, examines the use of prison labor throughout state and federal prisons in the U.S. and highlights how incarcerated workers’ labor helps maintain prisons and provides vital public services.  Captive Labor also calls for far-reaching reforms to ensure prison labor is truly voluntary and that incarcerated workers are paid fairly, properly trained, and able to gain transferable skills. 

“The United States has a long, problematic history of using incarcerated workers as a source of cheap labor and to subsidize the costs of our bloated prison system,” said Jennifer Turner, principal human rights researcher with the ACLU’s Human Rights Program and primary author of the report. “Incarcerated workers are stripped of even the most minimal protections against labor exploitation and abuse. They are paid pennies for their work in often unsafe working conditions even as they produce billions of dollars for states and the federal government. It’s past time we treat incarcerated workers with dignity. If states and the federal government can afford to incarcerate 1.2 million people in prisons, they can afford to pay them fairly for their work.”

Key findings include:

  • Nearly two thirds (65 percent) of incarcerated people report working behind bars — amounting to roughly 800,000 workers incarcerated in prisons.
  • More than three quarters of incarcerated workers surveyed (76 percent) report facing punishment — such as solitary confinementdenial of sentence reductions, or loss of family visitation — if they decline or are unable to work. 
  • Prison laborers are at the mercy of their employers.  They have no control over their work assignments, are excluded from minimum wage and overtime protections, are unable to unionize, do not receive adequate training and equipment, and are denied workplace safety guarantees despite often dangerous working conditions.
  • As a result, 64 percent of incarcerated workers surveyed report worrying about their safety while working; 70 percent say they received no formal job training; and 70 percent report not being able to afford basic necessities like soap and phone calls with prison labor wages. 
  • Incarcerated workers produce at least $2 billion in goods and $9 billion worth of prison maintenance services annually, but this number is not closely tracked and is likely much higher. 
  • Yet, most states pay incarcerated workers pennies per hour for their work. Seven state prison systems (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas) pay nothing for the vast majority of prison work.  Other states pay on average between 15 and 52 cents per hour for non-industry jobs.  Prison laborers often see up to 80 percent of their paycheck withheld for taxes, “room and board” expenses, and court costs.
  • More than 80 percent of prison laborers do general prison maintenance, which subsidizes the cost of our bloated prison system. Other tasks represent less than 10 percent of work assignments, including: public works projects (like road repair, natural disaster assistance, forestry work, and maintenance of parks, schools, and government offices); state prison industries, agricultural work, and coveted private company work assignments. 

June 15, 2022 at 10:24 PM | Permalink


Which of the “key findings” is supposed to be a bad thing?

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Jun 16, 2022 9:57:12 AM

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