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Behind Bars: A Guide to Understanding the Prison Industrial Complex: Prison Labor and the 13th Amendment

This guide is intended as an introduction to the terms and concepts associated with the Prison Industrial Complex in America.

Introduction to Prison Labor

In this video, John Oliver provides an introduction to the types of work that exist within prisons, the amount (or lack) of wages they receive for their work, the cost of basic necessities behind bars, and how companies profit by keeping people locked up. This is a great video for students unfamiliar with what prison labor is as it supplies students with important facts in an easy to understand manner. 

Articles on Prison Labor and the 13th Amendment

In these two article included below, both authors further expand on how the prison system exploits prisoners through prison labor and how the 13th Amendment makes it legal. The article "The ‘Modern Day Slavery’ Of Prison Labor Really Does Have A Link To Slavery" provides a general overview on prison labor, as well as the types of wages (or lack of) that prisoners receive. In "American Slavery, Reinvented," the author focuses on prison labor at Angola Prison in Louisiana and provides a link to a short film entitled Angola For Life which provides a more in-depth look at prison labor in Angola Prison.

Ava DuVernay’s 13th Documentary

Available on Netflix, 13th is a documentary that explores the history of racial inequality throughout the United States and addresses the fact that there are a disproportionate number of black men in American prisons, which can be attributed to the 13th Amendment allowing for slavery to exist in the United States so long as the individual is convicted of a crime. As director Ava DuVernay states in her NPR interview below, one of the main goals of this documentary is to get people thinking more deeply about the issues of the Prison Industrial Complex and to examine the U.S. criminal justice and prison system from a new perspective.