Rows of Prison Cells - Prison Interior

Work Behind Bars: Analysis of Prison Labor in the United States Based on International Labor Standards


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The U.S. prison system has been under increasing scrutiny in recent years for issues such as systemic racism, inhumane conditions, overcrowding, and sexual violence. While these issues are extremely pressing, another important issue, forced prison labor, is often overlooked. Therefore, as a labor rights organization, Verité determined that we could most effectively contribute to the critique of the U.S. prison system by lending an international human rights lens to the conversation on prison labor. For this briefing document, Verité carried out desk-based research to analyze the risk of forced labor in U.S. prisons based on the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) standards, guidance, and indicators of forced labor. Under each of these frameworks, Verité found a high risk of forced labor in the U.S. prison system.

For questions and more information about this document, please contact Yamila Irizarry-Gerould ( and Max Travers ( Verité is proud to support the #EndtheException Campaign to amend the exception to the 13th amendment allowing for involuntary servitude, or forced labor, as a punishment for a convicted crime.

You may also contact the following organizations for more information about prison labor and support their work in reforming the U.S. prison system more generally:

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