Social Work and Prison Labor: A Restorative Model

Shannon M. Sliva, Ceema Samimi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


The prison industry is one of the fastest-growing industries in the United States, fueled largely by prison privatization. UN guidelines and U.S. federal policy outline standards for prison workers, but evidence suggests that protections have been ignored or circumvented. The current prison labor system allows corporations to profit from punishment that is disproportionately allocated to people of color and the poor. This article provides a critical analysis of prison labor policies in the United States and proposes a position for social workers on the ethical and restorative use of inmate labor. This model uses the framework of restorative justice to explore how successful models of social enterprise can benefit inmates and their communities. Meaningful prison enterprises may offer the ability to return resources to communities depleted by crime and incarceration, and to restore inmates to full citizenship.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)153-160
Number of pages8
JournalSocial Work (United States)
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 2018
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 National Association of Social Workers.


  • prison labor
  • prison privatization
  • prison work programs
  • prison-industrial complex
  • restorative justice


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