Prisoner Labor: Perspectives on Paying the Federal Minimum Wage

T-GGD-94-8: Oct 28, 1993

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GAO discussed minimum wage prisoner labor and its potential effects on prison work programs, focusing on: (1) inmates' labor wages as compared with federal minimum wages; (2) federal and state prison officials' views on how the minimum wage would potentially affect prison systems; and (3) organized labor and other organizations' views on paying prisoners the minimum wage. GAO noted that: (1) inmates in five prison systems are not paid or are paid at rates that are substantially less than the federal minimum wage; (2) all of the prison systems reviewed would face a substantial increase in costs if they paid their inmate workers the minimum wage without reducing the number of hours worked; (3) prison officials believe that paying inmates the minimum wage would likely force large-scale cutbacks in inmate labor and increase the potential for violence and misconduct; and (4) some labor organizations believe that prison work experiences should be more like those in the general public and that prison industries gain an unfair competitive advantage by not paying inmates the minimum rates.