Trends in Wage Inequality for American Prisoners

Sarah K. Cowan, University of California, Berkeley
Adam Reich, Columbia University

More than 1,300,000 adults were incarcerated in state prisons in the United States in 2004 and over half of them worked while in prison. This paper examines wage inequality among those working in state prisons. We find evidence of prisoners’ wage inequality by race, sex, and education nationally and these inequalities echo that of the inequalities in the non-prison labor market. Within regions, however, we do not see inequality on these demographics, though there is enough variance in wages such that we could. Rather, the national inequality in prison wages is explained by differences in the composition of regional prison populations, that is, the regions where wages are the highest have prisoner populations with demographically different than regions where wages are the lowest. Paradoxically, though prisons facilitate racial wage inequality in the outside labor market, the labor market within prisons is marked by racial wage equality.

  See paper

Presented in Poster Session 3