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Captive Labor

Essays at the intersection of labor and mass incarceration.

Most people incarcerated in the United States work while locked up. Few are paid anything close to minimum wage; many are paid nothing. Are the people the system forcibly employs actually workers? And what role can organized labor play in ending mass incarceration? To explore these and other questions, we teamed up with our friends at LPE Blog and invited organizers, incarcerated authors, and scholars to participate in Captive Labor, a series on the theme of labor and the carceral state. We offer it as a resource for anyone eager to think about how to build solidarity with, and among, incarcerated people.

—May 2023

ESSAYS IN Captive Labor:

The Carceral Labor Continuum

So many people, on both sides of the prison wall, labor under threat of state violence. This opens a path to more robust, far-reaching worker solidarity.

Noah Zatz

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Exploited No More

How organizing workers in immigrant detention can serve as a foundation for abolition and liberation for all.

Lisa Knox, Hamid Yazdan Panah & Serafin Andrade

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Alabama Rising

For the past decade, people incarcerated in Alabama have led successful national worker strikes. Could a new prisoners’ rights movement be underway?

Andrew Ross & Aiyuba Thomas

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Building Worker Power

How one labor union in New York is organizing and creating solidarity among formerly incarcerated workers—and winning.

Bernard Callegari & Han Lu

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Why Incarcerated People Work

A new research project seeks to understand present prison labor conditions—and build a path toward lasting freedom.

Stephen Wilson, Minali Aggarwal, Jacqueline Groccia & Lydia Villaronga

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The Buried Roots of Carceral Labor

The U.S. history of coerced prison work is older—and more northern—than its popular origin story tends to acknowledge.

Rebecca McLennan

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Against ‘Work’

Calling incarcerated people ‘workers’ displaces the gravity of their situation and obscures the nature of carceral violence.

Ivan Kilgore

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Forced Laborers

The carceral state molds and enforces worker compliance, vulnerability, and insecurity—both within and beyond prison walls.

Erin Hatton

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In Depth

The Invisible Violence of Carceral Food

Kanav Kathuria

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In Depth

Cages in the Coalfields

Judah Schept

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No Justice, No Pleas

Andrew Crespo

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In Depth

A Pound of Flesh

Alexes Harris, Natasha Hicks & Cortney Sanders

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Harnessing Union Power for Public Defense

Kiyomi Bolick

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