Josh and Joel discuss the systems of prison employment for inmates inside America’s prisons and jails.

Full Episode

Notes From Episode 13


Equal Pay Day & Prison Employment

It is interesting to me that we are releasing this episode on equal pay day. Not because I want to distract from women’s equal pay but because it is a common cause (and there are plenty of women in prison earning pennies on the hour).


The Shawshank Redemption is not just a great movie, it gets a lot of the details of prison life right. Scenes from the movie were quoted every day in every prison and jail I was in.

Prison Employment Or Exploitation?

The article I referred to as “Talk Poverty” was actually published on many platforms, the point is that the people involved in the system are very aware that they are getting benefit from cheap labor.

The never-ending debate over if prison labor is exploitation or a way to fill dead time is discussed in this LA Times article. The article also explains the problem of having too many inmates and too few jobs.

There was a recent time when many major companies were using prison labor, many of these companies have stopped using this practice.

If you are wondering how exploitative prison labor is legal it is important to remember two things: 1) the 13th exception allows slavery in the case of criminals and 2) prisoners, for that reason, are exempt from the fair labor standards act.

Firefighters & Shawna Lynn Jones

We talk a lot about California inmate firefighters, this was the article I read first about the story of Shawna Lynn Jones.

Vocational Village

Michigan’s Vocational Village program has received a great deal of press coverage. I have had disagreements with the program (I think it is a problem that it only serves 400 of 39,000 prisoners).

There are many primers on paid apprenticeships for prisoners, this is a decent guide from the Center for American Progress.

Tech As Education Accelerator For Prisoners

Yes, prisoners can learn next economy skills like programming in prison. I have long imagined a world in which every inmate has access to Kahn Academy-style classes from tablets. Just imagine the difference meaningful educational programming could make in the lives of people shut-off from the economy (often for decades).

Soft Skills

Articles like this one about soft skills training in women’ prisons can help you get a feel for the entire topic of soft skills in prison.

You can also learn more about soft skills as a concept in general in this good overview of soft skills training.

Prison Creative Arts Project

The Prison Creative Arts Project in Michigan does incredible work, the most recent Exhibition of Prisoner Art just ended.

Orange Is the New Black

Here is the guide to all 65 recaps that I wrote for the series Orange Is the New Black

Pell Grants

The reason most Universities don’t participate more fully in prison education probably has something to do with the ending of Pell Grants for prisoners.

American Friends Service Committee Annual Gala 2017

Decarceration Nation is a podcast about radically re-imagining America’s criminal justice system. If you enjoy the podcast we hope you will subscribe and leave a rating or review on iTunes. We will try to answer all honest questions or comments that are left on this site. We hope fans will help support Decarceration Nation by supporting us from Patreon.