Prison Labor: An Economic Boon to Rural Communities

Prison Labor: An Economic Boon to Rural Communities

SchoenfeldPrisoners have long been used as cheap or free labor for Southern communities, a tradition that helps explain why some people oppose their release, Northwestern University’s Heather Schoenfeld wrote in In Justice Today.

Schoenfeld, a sociologist of law and the author of the forthcoming book Building the Prison State, argues that while the purpose of incarceration has changed over time, the expectation that prisoners work has remained constant.

Criminal justice reformers who advocate for reducing the nation’s prison population could strengthen their efforts “by frankly acknowledging the economic benefits derived by rural communities from the placement of prisons,” Schoenfeld wrote.

“While the extent of the economic impact of prisons is debated, by bringing up this history, they can encourage an important and all-too-rare public conversation about the economics of prisons,” Schoenfeld wrote.

“It is important for legislators and the public, to connect these economic factors to broader discussions about what prisoners should be doing when incarcerated and to the overall purpose of prisons today.”

Schoenfeld, whose work connects politics, policy, race and the law, is assistant professor of human development and social policy at Northwestern’s School of Education and Social Policy. She also is a faculty fellow at the Institute for Policy Research. Her research focuses on systems of criminal punishment. 

Read the entire piece, “Louisiana sheriff’s comments reflect more than racism.”

By Julie Deardorff
Last Modified: 10/18/17