The History and Ethics of Inmate Labor

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Prisoners at Oak Glen Conservation Camp leave the minimum security prison for work deployment under the authority of Cal Fire on September 28, 2017 near Yucaipa, California. (Photo: David McNew/AFP/Getty Images)

Prison inmates across the country are amid a two-week strike to protest what they say are exploitative labor practices and unfair treatment by the criminal justice system. In California, more than 2,000 inmates are currently fighting the state’s wildfires, earning a dollar an hour. Forum examines the history, ethics and legality of inmate labor.


Sharon Dolovich, law professor, UCLA School of Law

Alex Lichtenstein, professor of labor history, Indiana University