How Corporations Make Money from Prison Labor: They’re Happy to Have More Inmates

What's Going On


by Eric Hines

From the inmate’s perspective, it’s more than frustrating. He’s worked construction for free for almost a year until a slot opens and he can finally make $.12 per hour. Inmates with more tenure might be making $100 per month to build things for Unicor, who only sells to government agencies at top dollar. Some can’t work and get $4.50 per month “maintenance allowance,” enough to buy deodorant and a candy bar.

A year ago they had little room but now three sets of bunk-beds cram six people together in a place designed for two. They once had four television rooms but those are being converted into more bed-space as well. All the while, the conversation is alive about how much money the prison is making off them.

The Bureau of Prisons and Department of Justice run state and federal prisons, both of whom point to the national budget. If asked, representatives for these prisons say that no one profits from the inmates, that the prison labor is to sustain and maintain the prison itself and that it is government funded.

Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), on the other hand, owns and manages over 65 correctional institutions and prisons at every level, representing over 91,000 beds in 20 states. According to the public financial information available, CCA received 43% of their total revenue from federal correctional and detention authorities. The remaining 57% would be profit derived from prison labor. In 2011 alone they generated $351.1 million in cash.

“We believe we have been successful in increasing the number of residents in our care and continue to pursue a number of initiatives intended to further increase our occupancy and revenue.” This statement from CCA’s 2011 Annual Report on Form 10-K is in line with what Aviva Shen writes for on October 9, 2012. “Ohio sold the prison to CCA last year to help balance the state’s 2012-2013 budget, and CCA recently offered to buy another one in exchange for the state’s guarantee of 90% occupancy for 20 or 30 years.”

Some inmates at that Ohio prison were sleeping on the floor and the housing units continue to provide less than the 25 square feet of unencumbered space per person required by state law.

CCA is not the only company buying and building private prisons. Over 200 facilities in the United States are privately held and are playing the numbers game quite profitably. In 1970 there were 280,000 prisoners in the United States. By 2000 that number had grown to 2,000,000. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics site (, at the end of 2011 “adult correctional authorities supervised about 6,977,700 offenders.” Read on and one can see that “about 2.9% of adults in the U.S. (or 1 in every 34 adults) were under some form of correctional supervision.” 1 in every 50 adults were either on probation or parole while 1 in every 107 were incarcerated in prison or jail.




  1. A partial answer is education. Training of some sort that will actually allow a living wage in the real world–except that right now the real world isn’t making much, either.
    Another issue is social skills, for some. It is frightening to come out of an institution and have to integrate into a new and strange set of people.
    Teaching of self esteem…not false pride, but appreciation for one’s own self, individuality.
    We don’t have to buy into the “buy me” culture. Knowing what is important–family, skills, giving to others. These things last.

  2. This is legalized slavery! Point blank period. Young Black men being used to make money for our government, while all being legalized. No wonder our country is where it is, you’ll reap what is sown.

  3. That is just sooo sad and disheartening. Greed is the root of all evil. I, for one, will be glad when thier (greedy corporations and individules) judgement day arrives!

  4. As I have said to young black people over and over, the US did not eliminate slavery in 1865, it perfected slavery. Before 1865, master had to feed the slaves, take care of their well-being (so that he could profit from their labor) and house them. After 1865, black people had to feed, house and take care of themselves. If they should break one of master’s laws (vagrancy, smoking pot, driving while black – you get it) they were incarcerated. That gave rise to “modern” slavery – the hallmark of the United States of the KKK.

    Love and Peace to all my beautiful Black Sisters and Brothers

    Joe Brown

  5. Exactly what caught my eye Reginal Knowles…too bold
    That’s why the USA is going straight to hell and there is a different USA mentioned in the Bible…not like we know it today

  6. The new face of slavery. That’s why we are more heavily penalized than any other race. I think that it is a shame that none of this has been addressed by the president…but I am not surprised.
    He was the better choice…the lesser of two evils.

  7. We have had this discussion before. Aren’t you all tired of just talking about prison genocide? It begs the question, as to what must be done to correct the situation? We are just as guilty through our inaction.

    During President Obama’s first term, as I walked to the Library of Congress passing through the Capitol grounds, it broke my heart to see young Black prisoners in orange jumpsuits working similarly to members of the chain gangs, (absent the chains) with a guard standing ready to shoot, directly in front of the Capitol building; the very building built by the hands of those who were enslaved during the slave trade.

    Are we waiting for President Obama to sign a new Emancipation Proclamation as Abraham Lincoln did 150 years ago? Well, that’s not going to happen, because the federal and state governments pay the order to the profit- making prison corporations. I have previously mentioned, too, not long ago, when Angela Davis raised the issue, that the profit-making corporations even have quotas. Imagine that; quotas in a prison system, but not for an educational affirmative action program.

    A comprehensive study must be done concerning the proportionality of crimes and sentences aggregated by race and gender? (Yes, let’s not forget our sisters, either.) Hard core facts and evidence are needed to bring about change.

  8. I’m very upset with the Criminal Justice System on the subject of Prison
    Labor.The Hypocrisy of is that, ” Inmates are allowed to work in various industrial positions, that produce products that are sold to the government and other enities”. However, when these same inmates are released from prison, they can not apply at any manufacturing company, due to the fact, they were incarcerated. Why are the skills of these people good enough to produce products in the prison, but not good enough to produce simulair if not the same in the free world.This becomes a serious issues, due to the level of unemployment amoung Ex-Offender across this country. This is ( HYPOCRISY AT IT”S BEST )

  9. We have to mature and understand that no one is going to take of us.We command a trillion dollars.Do you know how many jobs that can be created for our youth?How programs such as mentoring,self esteem classes,History Of Self Classes,Respect Of Each Other Classes and Respect Of Elders Classes. My philosophy is nationalism.What kind of adults are we if we don’t control our own resources.I was on the ground in the 1967 riots in Detroit and I and saw the destruction that visited upon us afterword in pouring herion into all our communities.And they gave us SuperFly,and we went from What’s Up My Brother to everyone wanted to be a pimp and player.So they start the war on drugs who they started and first generation of Men being removed from the community.Then they put crack there for our sons along with Nigger Rap.So I think we understand the problems and it’s not like we haven’t had Messengers.We’ve had Fredrick Douglas,Marcus Garvey,Booker T.Washington,Elijah Muhammad,Martin Luther King,Nelson Mandela,The Nation Of Islam and also The Black Panthers!,amongst other Giants and leaders.We know what to do,lets do it!I know for me as a Man,I don’t like the fact that a group of people who are basically our children have us in this situation!As Marcus Garvey said”Rise Up You Mighty Race”,Booker T.Washington”Business Should Be For African Americans And African Americans Should Be For Business,and Elijah Muhammad “Do For Self”! This is the only way we will get our respect.We Are The Mothers And Fathers Of Civilization and we need to start acting like it!

  10. Not a mention about [email protected] the Central Park 5 was found guilt for lack of evidence. How many went to jail and then 25yrs. Later they were exonerated .

  11. Free labor with no benefits… Sounds like slavery all over again… Welcome too the New Plantations!!!

  12. So now were saying it’s everyone else’s fault that so many blacks are locked up? None of them are guilty of the crime they were convicted of right! Some get 2nd and 3rd chances before the big time.

    I don’t understand, if everyone knows about the prison industry, why keep doing the things that will ensure you pay them a visit?

    Yes; some are in prison wrongfully, most are not!

    I grew up in the hood, I didn’t go to prison and neither did any of my boys from back in the day, (it least no one has ever been missing for any length of time)

    Be smart don’t do the crime, you will get caught, if not this time the next! Then go back to school!

  13. In response to your comment James Johnson. African Americans are still not playing on a equal playing field. We still do not have Job opportunities, quality education just to name a couple of them. The system is set up against us. There are not too many options for African American males when they are faced with unemployment and poor education.

  14. We know its not a equal playing field. It hasn’t been since we stepped on this soil. But you know what? That’s no excuse to rob your brother, rape your sister, sell drugs to your neighbor and kill your former friend now gang rival. If people stop committing crimes and stay out of prison, then we can concentrate on the bros.and sis.that are wrongly convicted. Its so hard to get to them and find them because we have to wade thru so many guilty ones. I know the system is set against us. Actually I think we all know this, now the trick is to NOT fall for the same ol okeydokey

  15. Latrice, you have stated a great point. It is true that Blacks are an endangered species because of structured racism. In other words, it is certainly by design that the odds are against us. However, it is also true that many of us have voluntarily forgone our individual responsibilities to be good citizens or human beings. After all, no-one puts a gun to our heads to murder, rape, envy, rob, and/or victimize each other in so many other ways. Put another way, there are some “evil” Blacks–just as their oppressors–that enjoy inflicting evils upon others. So, my advice to those who wish to blame everything on structured racism is that we need to embrace our individual responsibilities by first beginning to embrace God’s wisdom. Since freedom is merely a state of mind, only wisdom or the truth can actually set us free.

  16. Another point worth noting is that the mass incarceration of Blacks is also supported and sustained by other Blacks, particularly those black elites that worship capitalism as their gods. While such elites look black, the only color that matters to them is green–the dollar bill. They have sold and will continue to sell each other to the highest bidder for less than a dollar. As wisdom tells us, “the love of money is the root of all evils.”

  17. So let’s say opponents of prisoners working have their way, and with a magic wand, DING! no more prisoners working for Corporate America. What happens next? Where do these prisoners get money? Will the states step in and match the funds the inmates were getting from private businesses? You know that won’t happen. These “modern slavery” articles and complaints are interesting, but does anybody ask the inmates what THEY THINK? I communicate with a number of inmates from my home state and they are grateful to have an opportunity to work so they are not begging their relatives to send them money. It gives them a sense of dignity not to have to ask anybody for anything. Rather than trying to kill the jobs, if you want to do something helpful, try to make sure the companies pay fair wages.

  18. remember that police, judges, prosecutors and prison staff all have a vested interest as well as preferred targets for this system.

  19. No wonder our good music is “sold out” and all this BS is on the radio!!! The Walking Dead???? Almost! If we keep eating what they feeding. The FCC which is a strong arm in our government is one hell of a drug pusher! Their games have us hooked on hate, their music has us hooked on hate, drugs, violence, and lust. Not only does sex sell, crime pays dividends!!!

  20. Why are we, Black people, discussing something that started during the 1980’s?

    Too late now, this show is a full go with no stopping in sight…

  21. I have some relatives who are incarcerated who are non-violent but sold narcotics out of desperation. There are not many jobs to go around in the area we live in and the jobs that are available do not cover the cost of living. No, I am not making excuses because my people migrated here from the south and they survived on very little but the mindset is different today. I have a job but I notice that most of the people they hire are friends and relatives which makes it harder for outsiders to get their foot in the door. Not only that once you get a felony, nobody wants to give you a second chance. It is hard enough to get a job without a record, much less if you have a felony on your record. Again, I am not making excuses but they are not given a chance to rehabilitate and become model citizens when they get out of prison/jail, so they become repeat offenders with no hope.

  22. Marilyn Johnson, ND

    This is why we must be ever vigilant about loving and caring for our young men and women. Make them see their value to our community. They certainly are worth billions locked up. Imagine if they could be productive at home! I dream and work to live in a world where they can be leaders and producers as they are meant to be.

  23. This tremendous problem has several layers. One place to start would be to reduce the 77% out of wedlock birth rate in the AA community.

  24. I respect their hustle— I’ll take all of the insults also for making this observation– in a many of our towns, cities,and rural areas- Black Folk are in key positions, such as- mayors, police officers, fire fighters, several churches with large memberships,and various positions in government ; as well entitlement programs— why are we so disengaged with the educational system that is continuing to fail our communities?
    The sudden realization of the incarcerating of Black Folk (poor people) for profit is absolutely shameful. All the distraction and hoopla about rappers ,sport figures,and Black Folk with money-has caused us to sleep on the most effective weapon that has been used since the onslaught of enslavement of our people– don’t allow them to Read nor Write– don’t teach them nothing–so when you look at who’s teaching in our communities, and miseducating us– then you can do something about ALL THE ILLS THAT PLAGUE OUR COMMUNITIES.

  25. cynthia winston-ford

    someone who worked within the jail system told me of the privatization of prisons YEARS before it started and now it is real and entrenched. they no longer offer education within that system because many of our brilliant men were coming out with degrees…and that, to me, is the bottom line of this, that our young men even as babies are not taught of their natural brilliance, wisdom and strength…how can they be? often black babies are light years ahead of their counterparts but that genius gets ‘educated’ out of them. the young men selling drugs on the street are entrepreneurs (of the WRONG product, of course) but are in 24/7 businesses that employ others. now i know, we do need JOBS to meet our everyday needs, but what about mentoring young people to have their OWN? we have the potential to be self-sufficient and truly the economic ruling class, were we to stop contributing to those that seek to control us. when we awaken (and we WILL…) to our God-given strengths and abilities there will be nothing or anyone who can stop us. that is the greatest fear of the current system…nothing frightens them more than a Black men awakening.

  26. cynthia winston-ford

    someone who worked within the jail system told me of the privatization of prisons YEARS before it started and now it is real and entrenched. they no longer offer education within that system because many of our brilliant men were coming out with degrees…and that, to me, is the bottom line of this, that our young men even as babies are not taught of their natural brilliance, wisdom and strength…how can they be? often black babies are light years ahead of their counterparts but that genius gets ‘educated’ out of them. the young men selling drugs on the street are entrepreneurs (of the WRONG product, of course) but are in 24/7 businesses that employ others. now i know, we do need JOBS to meet our everyday needs, but what about mentoring young people to have their OWN? we have the potential to be self-sufficient and truly the economic ruling class, were we to stop contributing to those that seek to control us. when we awaken (and we WILL…) to our God-given strengths and abilities there will be nothing or anyone who can stop us. that is the greatest fear of the current system…nothing frightens them more than a Black men awakening.

  27. Fredrick Douglas spoke change, DuBois, Marcus, Elijah, Martin, and scores more. The only real change comes when there’s a bloody revolution, e.g., American Revolution, Civil War.
    Until there’s enough mass appeal, momentum (mass times velocity, in direction of the specific change being sought), we’ll keeping blogging and cyber commenting.
    Chris Dormer had the right idea (though slightly misdirected). Take heed my brothas….take heed for a movement that affects us collectively.

  28. Brother Ross—- the only weapon we have is money– please don’t be FOOLISH—- THAT IDEOLOGY OF REBELLION ISN’T INTELLIGENT NOR POPULAR AMONGST THE SANE BLACK COMMUNITY– in my humble opinion-we can curtail the out right marginalization of us as a significant members of society—now the constructive thing for one to do is figure out how one can reach the masses of Black Folk to control their offal ways of wasteful spendings- that would empower us to make demands- versus begging the goverment for assistance.
    Now what else can we do?

  29. I wonder what our so called black leaders are going to do about this? TUH!!!Whoops I had a saenior moment…Oh thats right…only until thiers go to prison then thats when we can expect things to be looked into by them. Have mercy Lord. Our help cometh from you HELP US NOW LORD HELP US NOW!!!!!!

    • Kim, many of our leaders are unaware of these specific challenges. Share w/the “leaders” you know or become one of those “leaders”. Then as you see the diverse opinions about correct actions to take to address the purposeful oppression that indeed disproportionately targets the Black/African race in America.You see also that the answers to do so can not be without struggle/commitment and sacrifice. Leaders is one thing we are short of. So to assist in this area I solicite you and all other Black/African Americans here to become that leader you perceive is needed to address this (one of many)w/in our communities. As we challenge ourselves to be that “leader” needed we will collectively overcome the “messiah syndrom” of looking for that supernatural one, that chosen one. Not to demean anyones belief system, I’m a spiritual person myself. But one of our problems is waiting for somebody else to do something. We could all make copies of this info and share w/friends and families. Especially our your “manchild”, sons,grandsons, nephews. But don’t forget the girls. Their are women prisons also w/quotas to fill. Call a family meeting, have 1 or 2 friends that have reviewed this info present. Have a preliminary meeting w/them. Then have a more intense meeting w/family and friends. If any sincerely take interest, then take offers and commitments to have a meeting of their family and peers. We can accomplish nothing if we wait on others to make significant action. We must ourselves be that significant action/change we need. By this means we expose our community to struggle again. The struggle continues.

  30. Peter D. Slaughter

    Overall in this situtation a vast % of black people and afrikans have been set up to be souled/sold out.
    It’s ironic how so many black’s can get all hyped over some phony media event designed to take the attention and minimize what is really going on right in the faces of the masses of black people and afrikans.
    It’s even more ironic how once a black person is locked up,whether guilty or innocence.
    A vast % of black people refused to support or even show any real concern about them or the updated slave situtation right in the faces.
    This is suppose to be black history month and this vast % could care less.
    Long as these type of black people with this pathetic,updated slave mentally can run to some store,eat some unhealthy fast food or do some other type slave type activity to not take them out their little safe comfortable zone.
    Thinking some so-called black leader or some first black person who was twice elected is going to stop this automatically is a pipe dream and instead of some dream of MLK Jr. It’s a really a full blown nightmare.

  31. Wait. Where in this does it say black people, or black inmates only? Yeah, it doesn’t. Inmates. Get off your bullshit soapboxes and start with thinking and reading before raging and ‘reverse racism’. Your ignorance is embarrassing.

  32. Windzer Pierre-Louis

    As a parent of five young men I am very concern with the tactics being implemented to secure the prison occupancy. Given what we know I believe it is up to the Generation Xers (1965-1981)to brainstorm on how to deprogram our group from “the steady dose of brainwashing via commercializing hip-hop on the radio that teaches every black man is supposed to be blunt-blowing, gun-totting thug who waste his money and takes pleasure in killing and disrespecting women”. The CCA is on the mission to make a profit by any means necessary and convict leasing is back in a different form. Lets not wait for the “leaders” of our community to tackle the issue. Its obvious they know about CCA proposal by now and they have not cry foul. so what is YOUR plan?

  33. I cant believe the comments I am reading here, people don’t go to prison because some corporation wants to make a profit . People go to prison because they commit serious crimes, more than once. Then these poor prisoners have to work for 12 cents an hour boo hoo. What about their victim that cant work anymore or that has a mountain of medical bills.

    Does anyone other than me think that any money prisoners get should go to paying for their upkeep. They get better medical care than most of us, access to free education,3 guaranteed meals a day.

    Please don’t try to compare prison to slavery, our ancestors didn’t have anything to do with being enslaved. People in prison weren’t kidnapped and forced to go to prison they are the only ones responsible for their imprisonment.

  34. They didn’t mention the fact that these jobs at one time were government contracts that were open for competitive bid by small businesses and minority contractors. These contracts brought jobs, job training and economic development into communities. Furthermore, many of UNICOR’s manufacturing jobs were at one point, union type jobs in the private sector. The GEO Group controls UNICOR jobs. It’s a member of ALEC, the NYSE and provides prison services and profits around the globe.

    • Americans blamed outsourcing for some of our economic problems, but the in-sourcing of many good jobs went virtually undetected. What happens to the wages of union workers when free labor for similar work is available through prisons?

  35. The editorial written in Festival Times magazine at reiterates this sad truth. Thanks for checking it out. Next edition will be online April 7, 2013.
    Rolene Jones

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  38. Peter D. Slaughter

    To those who never were told or might have really forgot.
    Welcome to the new world order(disorder)
    In spite of the window dressing(porch dressing ) of some so-called black president.
    The genocide and massive oppression of black people continues and has become highly updated for the 21st century.
    Only problem way to many of our people are in denial,praying way to much for relief and basicially in a serious state of denial.
    I wonder how and why do so many really think to celebrate some juneteenth with this type of insanity going on.
    These sell-out rappers and these sell-out so-called stars working in racist hollyweird are being used to promote self desttructive and self hating behavior to millions of black people which keeps the criminal minded,brainwashed slave type images alive and well in the minds of all these so-called criminals who get locked up and trapped in these slave holding hell holes.
    I wonder will the real Afrikan/black people wake up from mental slavery and reject all these slave type images.

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