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Can Inmates Earn Wages in Jail?

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Inmates often earn federal or state-based wages for work they perform in prison. However, the typical wages for an inmate are far below minimum wage. Many prisoners earn as little as 25 cents per hour for their work.

Inmate Pay Basics

Some states have laws that allow states to have inmates work jobs without pay. In the federal and state prisons that pay workers, wages normally range from 25 cents to the federal maximum of $1.15 per hour, according to an August 2014 New Republic article.

Federal agencies and state governments often replace conventional public jobs with prison labor as a strategy to save money.

Income Usage

Along with financial gains made by federal and state governments, inmates benefit from earning income. Some prison labor programs are voluntary, which means prisoners opt into them. Primary benefits include skill development, work experience, personal financial gain and family financial gain.

For temporary inmates, working and earning in prison prepares them for work transition upon release. The money earned in prison often is used to pay restitution or other financial obligations. For long-term prisoners, the wages are a chance to help support family members.


About the Author

Neil Kokemuller has been an active business, finance and education writer and content media website developer since 2007. He has been a college marketing professor since 2004. Kokemuller has additional professional experience in marketing, retail and small business. He holds a Master of Business Administration from Iowa State University.

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