Skip to Content

Pros and Cons of Prisoners Being Granted the Right to Work

In the United States, the Thirteenth Constitution Amendment bans slavery and protects all people from forced labour with the exception of one group: prison inmates.

The United States justice system more or less requires inmates to work as part of their sentences, and many do routine maintenance jobs within prison walls. In this present age, many inmates also work in programs that produce goods and provide services for government agencies and the private sector.

Inmates sew military uniforms, build furniture and harvest crops, usually for sub-minimum wage. Note that as a cheap and readily available source of labour, these good people play an expanding role in American business and industry.

According to reliable statistics, over 1.6 million inmates are serving time in American jails and prisons. Experts in the United States estimates that about half of them have jobs in prison work programs. Prisons deploy convict labour in a wide range of ways.

For instance, Eastern Oregon Correctional Institute established an independent business that employs 80 inmates who produce Prison Blues clothing, a signature line of jeans and t – shirts. Other prisons tend to rely on agencies that run manufacturing centres and market convict labour to local businesses that need workers for a particular project or to municipalities that need buildings painted or parks cleaned.

Specifically, outside private companies can submit to all the necessary requirements and then be exempt from federal restrictions on prisoner – made goods. This is beneficial to the company as well as the inmates employed by the company.

In the United States, inmates in prison are known to earn around 95 cents and $4.73 a day. Prisons deduct up to 80 percent of their wages for taxes, the cost of incarceration and for programs that assist crime victims. Small amounts of money are also deducted for those who pay child support and for mandatory savings accounts meant to help convicts re-establish their lives when they are released.

According to reliable data, from April to June 2012, prison work programs reported a total income of $10.5 million. From that total, more than $5.8 million went to pay for inmates’ room and board, victims programs and taxes. Inmates netted $4.1 million, and the rest was applied toward child support and tucked away in saving accounts.

Pros of Prisoners Being Granted the Right to Work in the United States

The benefits of Prisoners being granted the right to work in the United States go much deeper than just job training. The primary benefits include:

  • Preparation for handling responsibility outside of the correctional facility
  • Practical and functional life skills – training
  • General technical skills knowledge
  • Prisoners are busy and productive, working rather than brooding in solitude.
  • The difference between prison and the outside world is lessened by the discipline of regular work, smoothing the transition when the inmate is released.
  • Though the wages provided from facility to facility differ, the programs do offer earned wage benefits that help more than just the inmate and the facility.
  • Taxpayers enjoy an immediate benefit from this work. A significant amount of that wage goes back to the state or county, to cover the cost of room and board.
  • Additionally, the PIECP program requires a percentage of wages to be saved. This is to assist the inmate when he is released. Upon release, the inmate’s wages will make their way back into the economy.
  • Finally, these wages are also used to provide child support or alimony. Further, wages are used to pay restitution to crime victims. These little – known benefits of prison work programs help all involved.

Cons of Prisoners Being Granted the Right to Work in the United States

There are also disadvantages with prisoners being granted the right to work in the United States. Understanding these cons especially within a particular facility will help your loved one get the most out of any given program.

  • Prisoners are used as a source of cheap labour, meaning other manufacturers cannot compete with the prices they are able to offer. This leads to the failure of businesses outside the prison system, increasing unemployment.
  • Although prisoners are generally paid for their labour, rates of pay are very low, whereas the opportunity costs are often high.
  • Prison labour frequently prevents prisoners from developing their skills through education and training, which would be of far better valued when they leave the prison.
  • Most inmates work at low – skill jobs, and whatever training they do pick up isn’t marketable in the communities to which they will eventually return.
  • With the new trend of privatizing prisons, states already pick up the cost of contracts that outsource incarceration, and money deducted from inmate wages increases the profits of professional prisons and their investors rather than decreasing the costs for taxpayers.


The right to work places inmates in realistic work environments, pays them prevailing wages, and gives them a chance to develop marketable skills that will increase their potential for rehabilitation and meaningful employment on release. If a prison work program is offered at a corrections facility, you or your loved one can learn more about participation opportunities by speaking with the facility staff.