- Benefits of inmate labor, Huntsville Item
- Hays Sheriff puts inmates to work at Hays jail to save money, Austin American Statesman
- Sentence to Serve program is one more way to do more with less, Caledonia (MN) Argus
Today prison and jail inmate labor is mostly performed on behalf of state and local governments and the prison system itself, so it's still a valuable resource even if it's mostly not commodified in the labor market. But free-world workers would likely chafe at prisoners' wider use in that regard, just like folks inevitably complain over prison industries programs and illegal immigrants taking all the good grapefruit picking jobs.
All three of the bulleted articles above essentially depict the positive aspects of using inmate labor. Countering those benefits, consider the situation of a just-captured escapee from a South Texas prison work crew, an episode which is causing TDCJ to reevaluate outside trusty assignments, with the likely result of reducing their number.
The most productive place for offenders to work is in the free world where they pay their own freight plus taxes to support the system instead of leaching from it. (See #5 from Grits' "Six Impossible Things.") In the meantime, inmate labor, as Christ said of the poor, will always be with us. If you've never seen it, set aside thirty minutes one day to watch Pete Seeger's 1966 documentary, Afro-American Work Songs in a Texas Prison; if your attention span's not that long, here's a YouTube preview clip to whet your appetite: