Gordon Lafer

Gordon Lafer is an assistant professor at the University of Oregon's Labor Education and Research Center and is a member of the national Coordinating Committee of Scholars, Artists, and Writers for Social Justice.

Recent Articles

Captive Labor

The old prison labor was chain gangs and license plates. The new prison labor is contracts with corporate America to employ inmates at less-than-minimum wage.

When most of us think of convicts at work, we picture them banging out license plates or digging ditches. Those images, however, are now far too limited to encompass the great range of jobs that America's prison workforce is performing. If you book a flight on TWA, you'll likely be talking to a prisoner at a California correctional facility that the airline uses for its reservations service. Microsoft has used Washington State prisoners to pack and ship Windows software. AT&T has used prisoners for telemarketing; Honda, for manufacturing parts; and even Toys "R" Us, for cleaning and stocking shelves for the next day's customers. During the past 20 years, more than 30 states have enacted laws permitting the use of convict labor by private enterprise. While at present only about 80,000 U.S. inmates are engaged in commercial activity, the rapid growth in America's prison population and the attendant costs of incarceration suggest there will be strong pressures to put more prisoners...