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The idea of prison life seems like a terrible and life-changing circumstance for prisoners who are experiencing a loss of freedom. This is the view that some free people may see of those who have been sentenced for whatever reason or time they serve.

Now, the truth behind the life that U.S. prisoners live seems to shut off from the world, and it's only prisoners and former prisoners that get to see the big picture behind the world, which is the prison system. Now, we have a brief idea that the prison system is different from the outside world. Still, we need to realize that it's similar in its operation.

Prisoners may struggle to live a normal life as much as possible between the walls of a prison. Some prisoners can have social, religious, and academic gatherings to help their mental state; however, the interesting part of it can all revolve around their ability to earn money while in prison. Do U.S. Prisoners Get A Paycheck For Working In Prison?


Now, this idea may seem strange to a lot of people, as they wonder how prisoners get jobs or what they do to earn pay while imprisoned. Well, it revolves around the idea that the prison system is a correctional facility other than the idea of a holding and bounding location. In this article, we will delve into prison labor, get an idea of how it is run, and the ways through which prisoners earn wages from labor. 

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The History of Prisoner Labor and Wages


The history of prisoner labor and wages is a sensitive topic. It is related to the slavery of a section of American citizens in the 17th century. We will look at the first occurrence of prisoner labor and its early involvement in the slave trade. Prison labor became institutionalized as a method to allow prisoners to impact the economic development of the nation and is backed by the 13th Amendment of 1865.


This measure allowed prisoners to be forced to work in economically- advancing sectors without the full constitutional rights to back the involved labor. However, the measure appeared to be a ploy to subject the recently- freed slaves to constitutionally-backed slavery as it allowed for the arrest of vagrants who flouted the widespread Black code, which was laws governing African Americans.

Over the years, prisoner labor laws improved, as more Human Rights additions were made to its guidelines. The improvements brought about the inclusion of compulsive labor for all able-bodied prisoners deemed medically fit under the new law. By the year 2001, prisoners could work and earn based on their prisons, as most states were against the payment of prisoners for any constitutional labor they were involved in during their incarceration.


Prison Labor and Wages

According to the 13th Amendment of 1865, it was a law for all prisoners of any correctional facility to be involved in prison labor. This has, in other ways than one, helped to shape the economy of some U.S. states, as it increases the amount of workforce available at a discounted price. This strategy has its plus side for the economy but is also negative for prisoners who must work as hard as their free counterparts for little or no pay.

However, prisoners can earn as low as $0.23 to $1.15 per hour or more in most U.S. prisons. The rate for this labor varies between states and some states do not pay prisoners for any labor. South Carolina has eradicated payment for prisoners for whatever jobs they perform while under their supervision, while Texas and Alabama have reportedly defaulted on paying wages to prisoners for labor.


For accountability, prisoners who receive meager payments may not get a paper check but may see their funds placed into a trust account, which can be accessed once their sentence is over. In some prisons, a prisoner may get paid bi-weekly and are able to purchase goods from the prison commissary through their account. Commodities such as taxpayers' money only cover the necessary services provided for them. Most times, the wages which are earned by these prisoners are mostly spent on phone cards, feminine hygiene items, and basic amenities.


The discussion on wages for prisoners' labor has been a matter of debate about adequate implementation and the possible raise in wages. This argument doesn't sit well with states who are responsible for the payment of the penal labor wage, as they intend to make as much profit. These conditions are unfavorable for prisoners as they are subjected to punishment for failure to get involved in assigned jobs. Some jobs that prisoners do and may earn wages for include laundry, custodial, maintenance, and food service.

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These punishments could get up to the point of solitary confinement for the prisoners, and they are forced to undergo strenuous work by corporations who hire them for menial to low-level tiers of work. Also, the earnings of the prisoners are used for family support, release, and reparation funds to the families of those who were a victim of their crimes. Most times, after all the deductions, the ex-convict is usually freed with little or no earnings to use in their assimilation into society.


For those prisoners who are left to survive prison time with little or no labor wage, the way through which they can cope while incarcerated is through receiving money from family and friends that goes into their accounts. This allows them to get more or better commodities that would help their stay in correctional facilities be more bearable.

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Another issue for most prisoners is COVID-19's influence on prison labor; this issue, which should have been addressed by the United States Bureau of Prison, has been side-looked. This impact has now forced prisoners to work more than before in a bid to cover the shortage of manpower in the free world. This exploitation is unfair as the amount of work they carry out isn't in tandem with the pay they receive while still being exposed to possible infection.

In conclusion, a better approach must be made to handling prisoner labor wages in federal and state prisons. Prisoners can use the benefit of potentially having a better life when and if they leave the correctional facilities. For more detailed information regarding how much prisoners earn in each state and each state’s wage policies, click here. 

For more information about prisoner labor and the criminal justice system, click on the link below: 

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We Are Not Slaves: State Violence, Coerced Labor, and Prisoners' Rights in Postwar America (Justice, Power, and Politics) Hardcover – January 13, 2020 by Robert T. Chase