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Many Prisoners Injured, Killed In Hazardous Work Lacking Training

Hundreds of thousands of prisoners are forced to work each year, often in hazardous conditions without adequate training, leading to serious injuries or fatalities, The Associated Press found. They include prisoners fighting wildfires, operating heavy machinery or working on industrial-sized farms and meat-processing plants tied to the supply chains of leading brands. These men and women are part of a labor system that largely denies them basic rights and protections guaranteed to other workers. The findings are part of a broader two-year AP investigation that linked some of the world’s largest and best-known companies – from Cargill and Walmart to Burger King – to prisoners who can be paid pennies an hour or nothing at all. As laws have steadily changed to make it easier for private companies to tap into the swelling captive workforce, it has grown into a multibillion-dollar industry with little oversight.


Prisoners across the U.S. can be sentenced to hard labor, forced to work and punished if they refuse, including being sent to solitary confinement. They cannot protest against poor conditions, and it’s usually difficult for them to sue. Most jobs are inside prisons, where inmates typically earn a few cents an hour doing things like laundry and mopping floors. The limited outside positions often pay minimum wage, but some states deduct up to 60% off the top. AP reporters spoke with more than 100 current and former prisoners – along with family members of workers who were killed – about various prison labor jobs. Roughly a quarter of them related stories involving injuries or deaths, from severe burns and traumatic head wounds to severed body parts.  It’s almost impossible to know how many incarcerated workers are hurt or killed each year, partly because they often don’t report injuries, fearing retaliation or losing privileges like contact with their families. Privacy laws also add to the challenges of obtaining specific data.

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A daily report co-sponsored by Arizona State University, Criminal Justice Journalists, and the National Criminal Justice Association

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