Prisoner Labor:

Perspectives on Paying the Federal Minimum Wage

GGD-93-98: Published: May 20, 1993. Publicly Released: Jun 22, 1993.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the potential effects on prison work programs if the nation's prisons are required to pay minimum wages for prisoner work, focusing on: (1) inmates' labor wages as compared to minimum wages; (2) views of federal and state prison officials on how the minimum wage would potentially affect prison systems; and (3) views of organized labor and other organizations on paying prisoners minimum wage.

GAO found that: (1) inmates are not paid or are paid at rates that are substantially less than the federal minimum wage; (2) prison systems would have a substantial increase in costs if they were required to pay inmate workers the minimum wage; (3) the prisons' existing payrolls do not include the cost of employer-paid benefits that inmates may be entitled to if considered to be employees; (4) inmate wages do not include potential charges such as user fees and taxes; (5) prison systems generally believed that paying the minimum wage would adversely affect prison work, job training programs, and prison security; (6) all prison systems stated that there would be increased inmate idle time and more inmate rule infractions or security problems if minimum wages had to be paid; and (7) some organizations generally favored improving inmate work programs and inmate pay through greater use of prison industry programs, and believed that prison industries gain an unfair competitive advantage by not paying inmates minimum wages.

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