A prison farm is a penal facility where prisoners are put to work doing manual labor, using the products of the labor to support operations at the prison farm, making it a self-sustaining operation. While farming is often associated with agriculture and some prison farms are involved in agricultural endeavors, prison farms can also be used for quarrying, logging, and other activities. Facilities where prison labor is used to make products like road signs and license plates are usually known as prison industries rather than prison farms.
Prison farms serve a number of functions. In some regions, hard labor is deemed an important aspect of the penal process and forcing prisoners to work is considered part of the punishment. Labor can also keep prisoners focused and lower the risk of behavioral problems at a prison by giving people something to do. The self-sustaining aspect may also be appealing, as maintaining prisoners can be expensive. Prison farms may earn money for the prison system, in addition to paying for themselves when they are well managed.
In addition to working at a prison farm, prisoners may also work in the community as part of what is known as a convict leasing system. People who need labor can contract prisoners to do it, receiving labor at a discounted price. Prisoners are usually eligible for working off site if they have good records and some of their earnings may be put in trust for their own use. Some prison reform advocates have criticized this practice, arguing that it is a form of forced labor and may violate the human rights of prisoners.
At a prison farm, most of the working positions to support the prison, including cooks, cleaners, and so forth, may be filled by prisoners. Prisoners who cannot work outdoors may be able to labor indoors in these capacities. In some prison systems, people can actively apply for transfers to prison farms if they are interested in this kind of work, and people can also apply for different positions at the prison farm. In others, prisoner transfers are made at the discretion of officials and not by request.
Prison farms are most commonly seen in rural areas, where there is room to establish a secure facility for working prisoners. As with other prison facilities, it is usually possible to arrange visits to prisoners so friends and family can see people in prison, with set visiting days and hours. Arrangements usually need to be made well in advance, using an appointment system maintained by the prison.