Document Type


Publication Date



Prison labor, Prison reform, Penitentiaries, Moral reform through labor, Convict labor, Prison Industry Enhancement Act, PIE


Criminal Law | Labor and Employment Law | Law Enforcement and Corrections


Although labor was central to the internal life of the early penitentiary, it has virtually vanished from today's prison. In this article, Professor Garvey proposes making labor once again a key part of the prison regime. During the decades surrounding the turn of the century, organized labor and business successfully lobbied for protectionist state and federal legislation that prohibited private firms from contracting for prison labor and selling prison-made goods on the open market. This legislation abolished the old "contract" system of prison labor and replaced it with the "state-use" system. Under the state-use system, inmates work only for the state, which also serves as the exclusive market for prison-made goods. This system continues to structure prison labor and results in widespread inmate idleness. Professor Garvey argues for a return to the contract system of prison labor, which would allow private firms to contract for inmate labor at whatever price the market will bear and to sell prison-made goods on the open market.

Publication Citation

Published in: Stanford Law Review, vol. 50, no. 2 (January 1998).