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Prisoner Education Guide

Articles by Sytonia Reid

On Sale Now: Prison Labor

by Sytonia Reid, Green American Magazine

Every day, incarcerated and detained people in both US government and private prisons perform labor during their sentences, with few exceptions. Many provide services for the prison itself, such as cooking, laundry, and maintenance tasks, while others make goods or provide services for the government or private companies. The prisoners and organizations that advocate on their behalf say they’re being forced to work in intolerable conditions for virtually zero pay.

While there may be some benefits for prisoners who work while incarcerated, the prison system strips many of these workers of their fundamental rights.

A History of Exploiting Prisoners

The use of prisoner labor has roots that go back to the system of slavery in the US. Passed three years after the 1862 Emancipation Proclamation, which freed slaves in Confederate states after the Civil War, the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution outlawed any continuance of slavery, “except for punishment of a crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.”

The amendment created an incentive for the South to criminalize more people to replace the now-freed slaves on whose backs their entire economy once rested, say experts. Their main target: recently emancipated ...


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