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Jordan Donahue

Assignment 2


Imagine if you was convicted of crime and was forced to serve time in a state prison
(Lord forbid). Think about how different your life would have been for you during your prison
sentence. Most likely, you would have to work have a tough manual labor job for a larger portion
of your day just to be paid a jokingly low for a wage. Not to mention, prices for items in
commissary are a lot more expensive than the prices for the items on the market. So not only are
you lowballed for labor, but you are then taxed more for goods in commissary. The work
prisoners are forced to do in prison is called penal labor. This is a legal punishment, because
when citizen is sent to prison it is their pays off their debt to society for committing a crime. The
13th Amendment makes this type of labor possible by outlawing slavery and involuntary
servitude, unless it is punishment for a crime.
Now, imagine how much different your life would be after serving your sentence.
Assuming that you are around the age an average college student during the beginning of your
prison sentence, you're going to be released into the outside world with little to none experience
in a career. Its already difficult enough searching for employment with a criminal record. Now,
you are forced to face the challenges of lacking the skills to obtaining a career and the
discrimination you will receive from employers. It is hard adapting to the outside world for many
prisoners as well. Once to spend x amount of years incarcerated you lose a feel of what it is like
living civilized out in society. Life after prison isnt always successful for prisoners and many
return back to being behind bars, because of their failure to acquire a steady income from

Now last for the last situation, I was you to imagine that you are serving time in prison
for minor drug related charges. You are now locked up and surrounded by rapist, murders, and
thieves. You are taking up space in an overpopulated prison. It is costing the state money to keep
you incarcerated for your minor drug charge.

Literature Review

Incarceration is a serious problem within the United States. Several key issues we will
explore in the relevant literature includes: incarceration for drug-related charges, the cause and
effect of cheap penal labor , and transitional or vocational programs. There are approximately
2.5 million people in American prisons today, and more than 3 million children in America have
a parent or parents who are serving time in prison (Pacholke, Dan). This is the same trend for
female prisons with most prisoners being a minority. Out of these minorities behind bars, most
are there due to drug related charges. In New York prisons alone there are 22,670 drug offenders,
which make up about of their prisons population. The United States is the strictest country in
the world when it comes to drug policies and enforcement. In fact, the United States have been
pressuring other countries to do the same and take part in this War On Drugs (Reynolds,
In 2015, President Obama presented a speech strongly criticizing the justice system by
saying, Its not as far as it should be. Mass incarceration makes our country worse off. And we
need to do something about it. He even went above and beyond any sitting president by visiting
a prison and speaking with six prisoners who were convicted of nonviolent drug charges. The
message he was trying to promote is that nonviolent offenders are serving more time than they
should and are taking up space in overpopulating prisons (Horsley, Scott). Oddly enough, despite

the justice system attempting to keep drug offenders behind bars it isnt cheap to do so. Since
1988, the state of New York has spent more money funding their prisons than they have spent in
funding their universities. It cost the state about $680 million a year to have drug offenders
incarcerated (Ganji, Robert). In result, living supplies, such as toothpaste, soap, deodorant, etc.
cost 30% to 50% more for prisoners compared to the regular market price. They also try to make
back some of this money by receiving cheap labor from the prisoners. A former member of the
Missouri Senate, Jeff Smith claims he was getting paid $5.25 a month for unloading trucks
everyday. In a 31-day month thats almost 17 cents a day. These minimized wages tend to result
in all types of hustling in the prison, from tattooing, giving haircuts, and even smuggling drugs
(Smith, Jeff). However, not all drugs are smuggled in by prisoners. This year in Georgia, 49
prisoner officers were indicted for smuggling in all types of contraband from drugs to cell
phones. These officers abused their power under the law by taking bribes from prisoners and
doing them favors in return. Not only did they put themselves in danger, but they put the
prisoners in danger as well (Samuel, Molly). Researchers have discovered that nearly 70% of
prisoners will use drugs while incarcerated. This can be fatal for the health of prisoners. The
injection of drugs can cause accidental suicide and/or become the source of diseases spreading
among the prison by reusing equipment (Gore, Sheila).
Studies show that two out of every three prisoners released with return to prison within
five years (Smith, Jeff). This is because many released convicts dont receive jobs opportunities
due to the discrimination of their background by employers. This causes many released prisoners
to return to the lifestyle that landed them in prison in the first place. Shaka Senghor worded it
best when he said, Prison is designed to warehouse, instead of rehabilitate or transform.
Senghor is a man who served 20 plus years in prison for a murder he committed when he was 19.

He states that he owes his current peace of mind to the support of his family and the mentoring
he received from prisoners serving life sentences, but no thanks to the prison itself. Senghor
wasnt fortunate enough to be placed in a prison that had programs that prepare prisoners for life
after their sentence (Senghor, Shaka). However, that doesnt mean such programs dont exist in
certain prisons. One prison offers training in the field of welding. The welding industry is dying
down due to lack of interest in the career by the youth and retiring of the veterans. Estimates say
there will be a shortage of 300,000 welding related jobs by 2020. Despite this, welding remains a
job that is in high demand in America. An aluminis of the prison welding program, John Turner
received three job offers after being released from prison (Capelouto, Susanna). This goes to
show that if provided the right skills prisoners can change their lives around after being released.
Another resource certain prisons offer that potentially help prepare prisoners for life after
prison is higher learning programs. Researchers have discovered that prisoners who receive
education while incarcerated are less likely to return and more likely to land a job. Unfortunately,
very few prisons in America have these type of programs. San Quentin State Prison on the
eastern outskirts of San Francisco, California happens to be one of the few. However, the
program isnt funded by federal or state money, instead by private donations. The courses are
taught by volunteer teachers from top schools, such as University of California-Berkeley,
Stanford, San Francisco State and many more. The controversy behind it is that many citizens
believe that prisoners should not get the benefit of free higher learning education (Westervelt,
Entering the Conversation
The first issue I want to address is cheap penal labor that prisoners are forced to work
during their sentence. Low wages arent helping these prisoners out much financially. This forces

many prisoners to swing towards hustling in prison. Some of these hustles result in making
prisons more dangerous that they already are. This includes smuggling in drugs and other
My solution to help out the prisoners in the slightest is raise the wages they get paid in a
day. This would assist the prisoners by giving them a little more that they can look forward to
working for, because what they get paid now is basically working for free. I understand that they
are criminals and are paying their debt to society, but we should still make penal labor more
humane than working for little to nothing. Next, I think lowering the prices of goods in
commissary to around the same as the of market prices would help lift the pressure off prisoners
financial. Not every prisoner has family on the outside that is willing of putting money on their
books and their only way of paying for commissary goods is from the wages they get paid from
their labor.

Smith, Jeff. Jeff Smith: Lessons in Business from Prison. Ted. June 2012. Web. 16 Mar.
Gangi, Robert; Schiraldi, Vincent; Ziedenberg, Jason. New York State of Mind? Higher
Education vs. Prison Funding in the Empire State, 1988-1998. ERIC. 1999. Web. Mar. 2016
Pacholke, Dan. How prison can help inmates lives meaningful lives. Ted. March 2014. Web.
16 Mar. 2016
Samuel, Molly. More Than 40 Prison Officers Indicted In Georgia On Drug Trafficking
Charges. NPR. February 2016. Web. 16 Mar. 2016
Senghor, Shaka. Why your worst deeds dont define you. Ted. March 2014. Web. 16 Mar. 2016

Reynolds, Marylee. The War on Drugs, Prison Building, and Globalization: Catalysts for the
Global Incarceration of Women. NWSA Journal 20.2 (2008): 7295. Web
Capelouto, Susanna. Amid A Shortage Of Welders, Some Prisons Offer Training. NPR.
September 2015. Web. 16 Mar. 2016
Westervelt, Eric. Why Arent There More Higher Ed Programs Behind Bars? NPR. September
2015. Web. 16 Mar. 2016
Gore, Sheila M. et al.. Drug Use in Prison. BMJ: British Medical Journal 313.7054 (1996):
429429. Web
Horsley, Scott. Obama Visits Federal Prison, A First For A Sitting President. NPR. July 2015.
Web. 16 Mar. 2016