Wages for prisoners at the DOC vary from $0.90 to $2.75 per day, according to position and skill level. MCE’s 1,500 prisoner laborers receive between 17 cents and $1.16 an hour.
Maryland spends more than $5 million a year to pay for DOC prisoner labor. Wages for MCE workers add another $2.68 million. Meanwhile, the program brought in $52 million last year from the sale of products ranging from furniture and flags to stationery and license plates.
The move by lawmakers to publish prison wages was also seen as a window into the job skills offered during incarceration and how or if those skills would be useful after release. An earlier version of the bill also called for transparency on the costs that prisoners pay for commissary items, but that failed to pass.
The Prison Policy Initiative, a nonprofit based in Massachusetts, reports that prisoner wages nationwide run on average from 14 cents to 63 cents an hour for institutional jobs. Hourly rates in state-owned entities operating within prisons, like MCE, spanned from 33 cents to $1.41. These figures do not include states such as Texas, which pay incarcerated workers nothing.
Student protesters have recently demanded that Maryland universities cut all ties with MCE. Some compared prison labor to “modern slavery” and institutionalized racism.
Other activists, such as William Freeman of the Baltimore-based Out for Justice, are concerned about what would happen to incarcerated employees if colleges or other agencies refused to do business with MCE. Freeman himself spent a dozen years working for MCE during his two decades in prison and said the program allowed him to support himself during that time and save up money to attend college once released.
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