The image of an inmate stamping out license plates during his prison sentence has come to symbolize prison industries for many people. Prison labor, such as the making of license plates, originally was utilized to save the government money, but it has come to include the production of many things for the private sector. Data entry and the manufacture of various products can be handled by convicted criminals. These operations help save companies money on labor, give the prisoners responsibility and financial reward and help subsidize prison expenses. There are many people, both outside and inside prisons, who oppose these labor practices.
Using prisoners for such things as making license plates and chain gang road work originally was introduced as a reward for good behavior and to save governments money on hiring workers to do this labor. Over the years, in an attempt to capitalize on this labor pool, prison industries have become big business. Some private companies hire prisoners to help make goods, and some prisons, such as the California Prison Industry Authority in the United States, handle all of the business themselves.
This is a benefit in manufacturing, because prisoners are paid a fraction of what employees outside of a penitentiary earn, saving large sums of money. Prisoners benefit from prison industries too, because it gives them a chance to earn money, however meager, while they are incarcerated. It also gives inmates a sense of accomplishment and is used as a reward for good behavior. The prisons also benefit from these industries because they often charge outside companies a fee or earn all of the money for themselves by manufacturing and selling products.
Prison industries are able to create a wide array of products. Furniture such as desks, chairs and couches are created by inmates. Refurbishing print cartridges has become a major industry for some jails. Repetitive data entry jobs frequently are performed by computer-savvy inmates.
Many people do not see the low cost of labor and opportunity for inmate employment that prison industries provide as positive things. Prisoners are not paid similar wages to those of their free counterparts, and the working conditions in prisons are poorly regulated. Some groups have protested this practice, asking for more rights for the prisoners.