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Prison Policy Initiative - How Much Do Incarcerated People Earn in Each State, 2017

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How much do incarcerated people earn in each
state?
by Wendy Sawyer, April 10, 2017

How much do incarcerated people earn? In 2003's The Prison Index, we
included wages reported by an obscure publication in 2001. Those numbers
remain among the most searched-for and cited statistics we have published,
although they are now almost twenty years old. Prison wages come up again and
again in the context of prison conditions and policies, and were even at the
center of the nationwide prison strike last fall. And no wonder: wages allow
incarcerated people to purchase personal items not provided by the prison, pay
ever-increasing fees, and bridge the gap after release. So, we set out to find the
most up-to-date information available for each state.
For this update, we combed through the policies of state correctional agencies
and any other available sources, and found information for every state. Despite
the inaccessibility of data for some state prison jobs, this is the most
comprehensive list of wages paid to incarcerated people available today:

Regular jobs
[non-industry)

Jobs in state-owned
businesses ['Correctional
Industries")
Low
High

Low

High

Alabama

0.00

0.00

0.25

0.75

Alaska

0.30

1.25

0.65

4.90

Arizona

0.15

0.50

0.20

0.80

Arkansas

o.00

o.00

0.00

0.00

California

o.o8

0.37

0.30

0.95

Colorado

0.13

0.38

n/a

n/a

Connecticut

0.13

1.00

0.30

1.5o
2.00

Delaware

n/ a

n/a

0.25

Florida

0.00

0.32

0.20

0.55

Georgia

0.00

0.00

0.00

0.00
2.5o

Hawaii

0.25

0.25

0.50

Idaho

0.10

0.90

n/a

n/a

Illinois

0.09

0.89

0.30

2.25

Indiana

0.12

0.25

n/a

n/a

Iowa.

0.27

o.68

068

0.87
3.00

Kansas

0.09

0.16

0.25

Kentucky

0.13

0.33

n/a

n/a

Louisiana

0.04

1.oo

n/a

0.40

Maine

n/a

n/a

068

3.50

Maryland

0.15

0.46

0.20

0.82
n/a

Massachusetts

o.14

1.oo

n/a.

0.14

0.56

n/a

n/a

Minnesota

0.25

2.00

0.50

2.00

Mississippi

0.00

n/a

0.20

1.30

Missouri

o.05

n/a

0.30

1.25

Montana

0.16

1.25

n/a

n/a

Nebraska

o.16

1.o8

0.38

1.08

Michigan

Nevada

n/a

n/a

0.25

5.15

New Hampshire

0.25

1.50

0.50

1.5o

New Jersey

0.26

2.00

0.38

2.00

New Mexico

0.10

1.00

0.30

1.10

New York

0.10

0.33

North Carolina

o.o5

0.38

Average 0.62
0.05

0.38

Ohio

0.10

0.17

0.21

1.23

Oklahoma

0.05

0.54

0.00

0.43

Oregon

0.05

0.47

0.05

0.47

Pennsylvania

0.19

1.oo

0.19

0.42

Rhode Island

0.29

0.86

n/a

n/a

South Carolina

0.00

0.00

0.35

1.80

South Dakota

0.25

0.38

0.25

0.25

Tennessee

0.17

0

.75

n/a

n/a

Texas

0.00

0.00

0.00

0.00
1.75

rtah

0.40

n/a

0.60

Vermont

0.25

0

.40

0.25

1.25

Virginia

0.27

0.45

0.55

0.80
2.70

Washington

n/a

0.36

0.70

West Virginia

0.04

0.58

n/a

n/a

Wisconsin

0.09

0.42

0.79

1.45

Wyoming

0.35

1.00

0.50

1.20

Federal Prisons

0.12

0.40

0.23

1.15

0.14

0.63

0.33

1.41

Average

Wages are per hour. Some states publish wage policies differently. For states that
calculate wages on daily, weekly, monthly, and annual bases, I calculated the
hourly rates based on work hours per day and work days per month, according
to the written policies or what was reported in the 2001 Corrections Yearbook
survey. For states where I could find no information on work hours, I assumed
22 work days per month and an average workday of 6.35 hours (for regular
jobs) or 6.79 hours (for industry jobs) per day. I included all non-industry jobs
paid by correctional agencies as "regular prison jobs' for the table, including
rare and off-site jobs that pay more. In many states, most regular prison jobs
pay well below the highest rates stated here. See the Appendix for policy details.

What kinds of work do incarcerated people do?
Not everyone works in prison. Facilities face budget limitations and sometimes there
is just not enough work to go around. But generally, correctional facilities assign
incarcerated people to work as close to a regular day as possible. These work
assignments fall into four broad categories, the first of which is by far the most
common:
a Regular prison jobs. These are directed by the Department of Corrections and
support the prison facility. This category includes custodial, maintenance,
laundry, grounds keeping, food service, and many other types of work.
Sometimes called "facility," "prison," or "institutional support" jobs, these are the
most common prison jobs.
2. Jobs in state-owned businesses. Often called "Correctional Industries," these
businesses produce goods and provide services that are sold to government
agencies. Correctional agencies and the businesses coordinate to operate these
"shops," and the revenues they generate help fund these positions. Agencyoperated industries employ about 6% of people incarcerated in prisons.
3. Jobs outside the facility. Work release programs, work camps, and community
work centers provide services for public or nonprofit agencies. These programs
are directed by the Department of Corrections, but sometimes community
employers pay incarcerated workers' wages. These jobs are typically reserved for
people considered lower security risks, and/or those preparing to be released.
4. Jobs in private businesses. A small number of incarcerated people work for
businesses that contract With correctional agencies through the PIE program.
This program allows private companies to operate Within correctional facilities
and provide job training and supervision. Companies must pay local "prevailing
wages" for these jobs, but workers may only end up with a small portion of these
wages; up to 80% of these earnings can be deducted for various fees.

One major surprise: prisons appear to be paying incarcerated people
less today than they were in 2001. The average of the minimum daily
wages paid to incarcerated workers for non-industry prison jobs is now
86 cents, down from 93 cents reported in 2001. The average maximum
daily wage for the same prison jobs has declined more significantly,
from $4.73 in 2001 to $3.45 today. What changed? At least seven states
appear to have lowered their maximum wages, and South Carolina no
longer pays wages for most regular prison jobs -assignments that paid
up to $4.80 per day in 2001. With a few rare exceptions, regular prison
jobs are still unpaid in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, and Texas.
Incarcerated people assigned to work for state-owned businesses earn
between 33 cents and $1.41 per hour on average — roughly twice as
much as people assigned to regular prison jobs. Only about 6 percent of
people incarcerated in state prisons earn these "higher" wages, however.
An even tinier portion of incarcerated workers are eligible for "prevailing
local wages" working for private businesses that contract with states
through the PIE program. The vast majority spend their days working
in custodial, maintenance, grounds keeping, or food service jobs for the
institutions that confine them.
The wages listed above do not include any deductions, which in reality
often leave incarcerated workers with less than half of their gross pay.
In Massachusetts, for example, at least half of each paycheck goes into
a savings account to pay for expenses after release. "Any and all funds"
can be used to pay court-assessed fines, court costs, victim witness
assessments, etc. New Mexico deducts 15-50% of each paycheck for a
Crime Victims Reparations Fund, discharge money, and family support.
These policies arguably serve legitimate purposes, but such deductions
also mean that $1 per day earned to make day-to-day life behind bars
more bearable is really 5o cents (or even less).
The question of wages paid for prison labor is an important one, especially when
we consider the relative costs of fees charged and things sold to
incarcerated people. The value of a dollar is different when you earn
pennies per hour. (And in six states, the wage is almost always zero
pennies per hour.) In Colorado, for example, it costs an incarcerated
woman two weeks' wages to buy a box of tampons; maybe more if
there's a shortage. Saving up for a $10 phone card would take almost
two weeks for an incarcerated person working in a Pennsylvania
prison.
Making it hard for incarcerated
people to earn real money
hurts their chances of success
when they are released, too.
With little to no savings, how

With no savings, how can people possible
afford the immediate costs of food, housing,
healthcare, transportation, child support, and
supervison fees once released?

can they possibly afford the immediate costs of food, housing,
healthcare, transportation, child support, and supervison fees? People
with felony convictions are often ineligible for government benefit
programs like welfare and food stamps, and face barriers to finding
stable housing and employment. And they may leave prison with just a
bus ticket and $50 of "gate money," if they have no other savings. So
the meager earnings from prison work assignments can be essential to a
person's success — and even survival — when they return to their
community.

Most prison jobs teach incarcerated people very few skills relevant to the
labor market they will rejoin upon release, so the wages they earn may
be the only payoff they see. These perpetually low wages are especially
frustrating when we consider the increasing expenses incarcerated
people face, both inside and after release. Of course, raising wages is a
tough sell politically, but policymakers and the public must acknowledge
that almost everyone in prison will eventually be released. Their success
and independence depends largely on financial stability-, which is
undermined by low wages, nickel-and-diming through "user fees,'
mandatory deductions, and work that does little to prepare them for
work outside of prisons. Forward-thinking policymakers must consider
the importance of earnings and relevant job training for people they
hope will be independent one day.

For details about each state's wage policies, see the Appendix.
Updated April 28, 2017 with information from a new source on Oklahoma's
regular prison jobs (non-industry). Originally, I included information based on
a DOC website statement that these jobs pay up to $20 per month. According
to DOC policy, however, most pay between $7.23 and $14.45 per month, and
the highest possible wage for "special project pay" is 54 cents per hour. The
averages have been updated to reflect these changes as well.

 

 

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