Prison Labor: Reform or Abolish?
While mass incarceration has received a great deal of attention in recent years, the topic of prison labor has been relatively neglected. Many incarcerated men and women work within jails and prisons—often for wages as low as 10 cents per hour, and in some states for no remuneration at all. The jobs typically involve providing janitorial or food preparation services that contribute to the general running of the facility, or participating in a range of production industries that allow states or companies to sell goods and merchandise for a significant profit.
Prison authorities and industry managers often rationalize these types of labor by claiming that they mitigate the cost of detention while providing work routine and transferable skills that will benefit incarcerated workers upon their return to society—and they point out that there is no shortage of inmates wishing to volunteer for these positions. Yet critics have compared prison labor to a form of modern day slavery, highlighting the questionable working conditions, minimal or nonexistent pay, and the apparent dependence of some states on the labor of prisoners.
Prison labor has received more attention recently, after a wave of strikes across carceral facilities in Alabama, where prison workers receive no pay, in 2016. And 40 percent of those currently tasked with fighting the catastrophic wildfires in California are prisoners, working for $2 per day and an additional $1 an hour when they are directly on the fire lines.
Is this system of prison labor sustainable—or even defensible—in its present form? Should prison labor be reformed or abolished? This event will bring together a panel of experts who are uniquely qualified to address these complicated questions.
Tuesday, November 28 at 7:00pm
Healey Family Student Center, Social Room
3700 O Street NW, Washington, DC 20057