Unpaid Prison Labor in Texas

by Vins
Published: Last Updated on

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) manages the largest prison population in the US and the most prisons of any state. It is also, Jason Renard Walker reports, one of the most “profitable prison systems in the nation, thanks to prison labor.” Many of the state’s more than 140,000 prisoners, held at more than 100 prisons, are forced into labor as part of their sentences, and are paid nothing in wages. If prisoners refuse to work they face discriminatory punishment and longer sentences.

Walker’s Truthout report documents the role of Texas Correctional Industries (TCI). Prisoners in Texas grow “24 different crops and tend to over 10,000 head of cattle. They also act as painters, electricians, maintenance workers, cooks, janitors and dog trainers.” But TCI does not pay prisoners a wage for their work. In fiscal year 2014, TCI reported sales valued at $88.9 million.

When critics question TCI, spokespersons say that prisoners receive other types of rewards for their labor, such as the development of job skills and time credits called “Good Time” or “Work Time.” These credits are supposed to reduce the prisoner’s sentence and may allow them to be released on mandatory supervision. “But in reality,” Walker writes, “mandatory supervision is discretionary… [T]he parole board does not have to honor these credits.”

Renard describes the Texas system as “flat-out, modern-day slave labor” and he notes that it will continue, “as long as society accepts the notion that prisoners deserve less.”


Jason Renard Walker. “Unpaid Labor in Texas Prisons Is Modern-Day Slavery.” Truthout. Last modified September 6, 2016. http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/37470-unpaid-labor-in-texas-prisons-is-modern-day-slavery.

Kit O’Connell, “Texas Activists Protest Modern-Day ‘Slavery’ in Prisons,” Texas Observer, September 12, 2016. https://www.texasobserver.org/austin-iwoc-protest/.

Aaron Cantu, “Who’s Behind Unpaid Prison Labor in Texas?” Little Sis News, April 27, 2016. http://littlesis.org/news/2016/04/27/whos-behind-unpaid-prison-labor-in-texas/.

Student Researcher: Ashley Larios (Sonoma State University)

Faculty Evaluator: Suzel Bozada-Deas (Sonoma State University)