Convict Labor

5.2 discussion board


Consider the following scenario from your textbook:

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Convict labor in prisons has been expected since the early days of American institutions in New York. The Auburn model of prison facilities in the early 1800s developed congregate work, the silent system, and extremely physical punishment for those who violated the rules of silence. Prison labor and industry operations developed from the desire to have convicted offenders “earn their keep” by making products that could be sold in the free community—with the money made used to offset the cost of confinement to the taxpayer. Prison labor was also seen as a reasonable way to keep inmates busy rather than giving them time to relax and concoct more negative uses of their time.

Prisons in the south used inmates in agricultural fields to make money. Other prisons were authorized to accept contracts where officials leased or rented inmates to private businesses and farmers. Additionally, many prison systems made prisoners produce goods for use within the state’s correctional system: clothing, shoes, mattresses, and food. All these programs were intended to give convicted offenders a productive task, save the government money, and further the concept of “just desserts.”

Concerned citizens have often expressed displeasure at the harsh use of inmate labor, the perception of the state taking advantage of the confined population as cheap labor, and the idea that prison-made goods present an unfair advantage over the less competitive and more costly to operate factories outside prisons. Reformers and trade unions tend to complain bitterly during economic downtowns in our country. Federal legislation restricting the use of prison-made products was conceived in the 1930’s during the Great Depression; many feared that jobs in the free world would be lost to cheap convict labor. The Hawes-Cooper Act of 1935 and the Ashurst–Sumners Act of 1940 made interstate trade in prison-made goods illegal.

An exception to these restrictions was later created with the Prison Industry Enhancement (PIE) program. Congress created this legislation in 1979 to encourage states to create institutional work opportunities for prisoners that approximate work opportunities in the community; products of these joint ventures could be sold in the free market. To qualify for such a program, state and federal prisons would have to develop partnerships with private companies; the companies are required to pay inmates the prevailing wage for the industry. In return, inmates would be required to pay for their room and board in the correctional facility. One important benefit for inmates is that they learn marketable skills that are viable in today’s employment marketplace.

Prison and jail authorities have, for the most part, welcomed the relaxation of laws that allow employment opportunities for prisoners. Labor organizations and private companies still resent the competition from convicted offenders.

Initial Post Instructions

For your initial post, analyze the scenario and evaluate the following. Include a synthesis of academic concepts.

  • Should correctional leaders be allowed to use inmate labor to offset the costs of confinement? Why or why not?
  • Do you think prison made goods should be allowed to compete with outside industry? Why or why not?
  • What do you think society expects as a daily routine for prisoners and is this expectation consistent with correctional management best practices?
  • Do you believe inmates should be required to work? Why or why not?



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