The Political Economy of Prison Labour: From Penal Welfarism to the Penal State

Source: Anil Shah and Christoph Scherrer, Global Labour Journal, January 2017

The article traces the return of prison labour for commercial purposes in the United States. In the age of Fordism, work for commercial purposes was prohibited in prisons; the emphasis was on rehabilitation. This “penal welfarism” gave way to a “penal state” of extremely high incarceration rates and exploitative prison labour. While this shift mirrors the turn to neo-liberalism, it is also the result of specific labour market conditions and racial discrimination.

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