Comparing Compensation: What Inmates in Private Prisons Would Otherwise Get Paid

Comparing Compensation: What Inmates in Private Prisons Would Otherwise Get Paid

Comparing Compensation: What Inmates in Private Prisons Would Otherwise Get Paid

This is the second blog in a series on labor exploitation in private prisons. To read the first, click here.

Human Trafficking Search recently published a study on the use of penal labor in private prisons, finding that private prisons effectively exploit inmates for labor, particularly for institutional maintenance. Institutional maintenance is work such as food service, groundskeeping, and housekeeping that contributes to the day-to-day operation of the institution. In any other corporation, workers would be required by law to be paid at least minimum wage ($7.25/hour) for their work. However, according the study, private prisons are only required to pay inmates $0.12-0.40 per hour.

This blog compares what inmates in private prisons are paid for institutional maintenance jobs to what they would otherwise be paid if they were working the same jobs under another profit-generating corporation.

In prison, there are two types of payment: performance pay and maintenance pay. Performance pay is the primary pay grade for inmates, in which they are paid $0.12-0.40 per hour. Due to “budgetary constraints” only a certain percentage of inmates are allowed to be paid more than $0.12 per hour (see Table 1). In cases where overcrowding is occurring, inmates work the same amount but are paid maintenance pay: $5.25 per month.

Table 1: Inmate Performance Pay Hourly Rate and Percent of Work Assignments per Grade Wage

Grade Level Hourly Wage ($) Percent of the institution’s allotted inmate work assignments (%)
1 0.40 5
2 0.29 15
3 0.17 25
4 0.12 55

Table 2 lists various occupations that are commonly worked by inmates in prison facilities. Additionally, Table 2 lists the mean hourly wage and annual mean wage for each occupation, compiled by the US Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Table 2: Institutional Maintenance Occupations


Occupation Mean Hourly Wage Annual Mean Wage
Carpentry $22.55 (Carpenters)

$14.06 (Help-Carpenters)





Plumbing $26.11 (Plumber)

$14.33 (Helpers-Plumbers)





Grounds Maintenance Workers (Groundskeeping) $15.76




Housekeeping $16.40


Laundering (uniforms and bed linens) (Laundry Workers) $10.98 $22,850


Mopping Floors/Janitorial Duties $11.94


Food Services (Food Servers, non-restaurant) $11.22




Administrative Services (such as filing) $12.71 (file clerk) $26,450 (file clerk)
Dishwashing $9.75 $20,280


Private prisons make millions of dollars in profit. They must be held accountable to normative labor standards and be required to pay inmates at least minimum wage.

Visit our blog next week to learn about how you can take action against labor exploitation in private prisons. Read our full study here.