What is a Prison Farm?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

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 earn money for the prison system.
Prison farms earn money for the prison system.

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.

A prison farm may be used for non-agricultural activities, such as logging.
A prison farm may be used for non-agricultural activities, such as logging.

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.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


What is not being said is that this is a form of indentured servitude or slavery. While from the outside it looks as if they are keeping the burden off of tax payers. In reality some of the guys earn 1.00 a day give or take a few pennies. Now think about that.

How many commercials do we see on the television condemning this sort of practice worldwide? The prison system corrals people into it in a successful attempt to support the outside law enforcement, judicial, penal,and other ancillary industries. Over enforcement of laws equals jobs in a lot of industries.

An example that most people can relate to is ticketing, another stranglehold to extort monies out of people. Now follow the logic. If crime is up, what is the logical solution? (Hire more police). Now cops love crime; this is what keeps them employed. Now what happens to employees who don't produce? You are no longer needed. This will never happen to police. Why? They have the power to create crime! How? You can be charged for a crime for darn near sneezing. Now the person is usually very poor and/or a minority is headed to the judicial process and lawyers, judges, social workers, etc.

These types of defendants get sub par representation, all but guaranteeing a conviction with either jail time or probation or some hybrid of them both and even including some other outside services.

Now let's get to the people that generate so many jobs in the system, but are the only people in this society who it is legal to discriminate against: someone convicted of a crime. Can you imagine telling a woman she cannot vote! What about denial of housing, funding for school, employment? Now you have a disenfranchised person siting in jail performing labor at wages that would not pass muster anywhere. Not to mention all of the corporation that profit from everything from clothing of to feeding to overcharging under poor people by 600 percent just to talk to their loved ones. Now income prisons for profit! Wow! Privately owned prisons! Here is an incentive to bring down the crime rate.

Now let's get to the cheap labor supplied to companies for pennies an hour. Ladies and gentlemen, we live in the one of the most advanced countries in the world and we have the highest prison population in the world by far. This system destroys certain segments of the population from such a young age it's darn near impossible to escape it. Poverty, drugs, crime, unemployment, prison.


I think most people favor prisoners working rather than sitting around doing nothing all day. Working helps the inmates be more prepared to enter society when they are released. I mean, how can we expect people to basically sit around doing nothing for five years and then suddenly go out and start working forty hours a week with no problems?

So I say let the inmates work--make them work-- as long as they are not taking work away from other people. Let's make sure they are doing jobs that need to be done because there is no one else to do them.


I like the idea of prison farms, but the system is only as good as the people running it. There are many examples from the past which show that prisoners on farms are often mistreated. Also, there were many instances where labor provided by inmates in prison was misused to earn money for administrators and prison officials.


Prison farms and "chain gangs" were once the norm, but not anymore. I like the idea of prisons being self-sustaining. Why should taxpayers be forced to support prisoners when there are other ways to pay for the upkeep of inmates and the facilities? I think we should have prison farms wherever we can.

Prison farms save taxpayers money, and the farms give the prisoners something to do while they are serving their time. This is good for everybody involved in the long run.

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