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New Study Shows Economic Benefits of Ending Prison Slavery and Paying Fair Wages to Incarcerated Workers

Published: January 31,2024

Published By: Edgeworth Economics, Worth Rises



"...The long-term benefits would outweigh the initial costs to governments and taxpayers. These benefits include financial independence for incarcerated workers, enhanced economic stability for families, support for crime victims, increased tax revenue, and a reduction in crime and incarceration expenses due to lower recidivism rates."


Worth Rises, a non-profit organization advocating for criminal justice reform, has released a groundbreaking cost-benefit analysis conducted by Edgeworth Economics. The study, titled "A Cost-Benefit Analysis: The Impact of Ending Prison Slavery and Involuntary Servitude as Criminal Punishment and Paying Incarcerated Workers Fair Wages," offers a detailed examination of the financial implications of abolishing the exploitation of incarcerated individuals through fair wage policies. The findings highlight substantial advantages for incarcerated workers, their families, victims, and society at large.


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A Cost-Benefit Analysis: The Impact of Ending Slavery and Involuntary Servitude as Criminal Punishment and Paying Incarcerated Workers Fair Wages
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Bianca Tylek, founder and Executive Director of Worth Rises, emphasized the moral imperative of ending prison slavery, stating, "We shouldn't need to make an economic case for ending this practice in 2024. However, this study provides a compelling argument for the economic benefits of abolishing prison slavery and ensuring fair wages for all incarcerated individuals. Doing so will lead to a more humane, just, and prosperous society for everyone."


The study points out that the current exception in the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution allows for the continuation of slavery and involuntary servitude as punishment for crime, affecting hundreds of thousands of incarcerated people who are often forced to work for minimal or no pay. Efforts are underway to eliminate this exception through proposed federal legislation by Senator Jeff Merkley, Senator Cory Booker, and Congresswoman Nikema Williams.


At present, incarcerated workers earn less than a dollar per hour on average. Ending prison slavery and implementing fair wage policies could increase their earnings more than tenfold. The estimated total economic benefits of this initiative, including its impact on incarcerated workers, families, victims, and society, range between $26.8 billion and $34.7 billion annually, resulting in a net benefit of $18.3 billion to $20.3 billion annually after accounting for government costs.


Steve Bronars, partner at Edgeworth Economics and lead author of the study, highlighted the fiscal advantages of these measures, noting that the long-term benefits would outweigh the initial costs to governments and taxpayers. These benefits include financial independence for incarcerated workers, enhanced economic stability for families, support for crime victims, increased tax revenue, and a reduction in crime and incarceration expenses due to lower recidivism rates.


Key findings of the study indicate that incarcerated workers could benefit from annual income increases of $11.6 billion to $18.8 billion, compared to the $847 million they currently earn. Families and children could save on expenses related to supporting incarcerated loved ones, while crime victims would receive more in victim restitution payments. Governments and taxpayers would benefit from increased tax revenue and reduced costs associated with recidivism and crime.


Apart from the measurable economic advantages, the study also recognizes the intangible benefits of ending prison slavery, such as improved physical and mental well-being for incarcerated individuals.





About Worth Rises: Worth Rises is a non-profit organization committed to dismantling the prison industry and ending the exploitation of targeted individuals. Follow @WorthRises on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

About Edgeworth Economics: Edgeworth Economics is a renowned economic consultancy known for its expertise in various areas, including antitrust, consumer protection, labor and employment, and intellectual property.

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