Despite producing nearly $11 billion worth of goods and services each year, incarcerated workers in the U.S. earn an average of just between 13 cents and 52 cents per hour across the country, according to a new report.
A new American Civil Liberties Union report published Wednesday said that wages are low, and that in most cases the government takes up to 80 percent of the pay for room and board, court costs, restitution and other fees, including the construction and maintenance of prisons.
Incarcerated workers produce more than $2 billion per year in goods and more than $9 billion per year in services for the maintenance of the prisons, the report added.
According to the report, the wage deductions leave the workers with less than half of their gross pay, from which they are expected to cover the cost of their own hygiene products and medical care.
Almost 70 percent of incarcerated workers who were polled said they cannot afford basic necessities with their prison wages.
The report also found that prison workers in seven states — Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina and Texas — are not paid any compensation for majority of their work.
The ACLU also found that more than 76 percent of incarcerated workers surveyed by the Bureau of Justice Statistics say that “they are required to work or face additional punishments such as solitary confinement, denial of opportunities to reduce their sentence, and loss of family visitation.”
According to the report, prisoners cannot choose what type of work they do and are allegedly “subject to arbitrary, discriminatory, and punitive decisions by the prison administrators who select their work assignments.”
Many incarcerated workers also do hazardous work in unsafe conditions. As a result of poor data collection, the true number of workers injured on the job is unknown, the report added.
“Prison labor is inherently coercive and exploitative. Incarcerated workers are not protected by standard labor laws, like minimum wages, overtime protection, the right to unionize, and workplace safety guarantees,” according to the ACLU report.
The authors of the report have demanded that prisons around the country raise the wages of incarcerated workers to allow them to pay for expenses like “child support, phone calls home and commissary costs, while supporting their families and saving for eventual reentry into the society.”
They have also asked that lawmakers amend the Constitution to abolish the 13th Amendment exclusion that allows slavery and involuntary servitude as punishment for a crime.
More than 1.2 million people in the U.S. are currently incarcerated in state and federal prisons, of whom approximately two-thirds are employed in the prison system.