How much do incarcerated people earn in each state?

Prison wages come up again and again in the context of prison conditions and policies. So, we found the most up-to-date information for each state.

by Wendy Sawyer, April 10, 2017

How much do incarcerated people earn? For this update, we combed through the policies of state correctional agencies and any other available sources, and found information for every state. Despite the inaccessibility of data for some state prison jobs, this is the most comprehensive list of wages paid to incarcerated people available today:

Wages are per hour. Some states publish wage policies differently. For states that calculate wages on daily, weekly, monthly, and annual bases, I calculated the hourly rates based on work hours per day and work days per month, according to the written policies or what was reported in the 2001 Corrections Yearbook survey. For states where I could find no information on work hours, I assumed 22 work days per month and an average workday of 6.35 hours (for regular jobs) or 6.79 hours (for industry jobs) per day. I included all non-industry jobs paid by correctional agencies as “regular prison jobs” for the table, including rare and off-site jobs that pay more. In many states, most regular prison jobs pay well below the highest rates stated here. See the Appendix for policy details.
Regular jobs
Jobs in state-owned businesses
(“Correctional Industries”)
Low High Low High
Alabama 0.00 0.00 0.25 0.75
Alaska 0.30 1.25 0.65 4.90
Arizona 0.15 0.50 0.20 0.80
Arkansas 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00
California 0.08 0.37 0.30 0.95
Colorado 0.13 0.38 n/a n/a
Connecticut 0.13 1.00 0.30 1.50
Delaware n/a n/a 0.25 2.00
Florida 0.00 0.32 0.20 0.55
Georgia 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00
Hawaii 0.25 0.25 0.50 2.50
Idaho 0.10 0.90 n/a n/a
Illinois 0.09 0.89 0.30 2.25
Indiana 0.12 0.25 n/a n/a

Iowa 0.27 0.68 0.58 0.87
Kansas 0.09 0.16 0.25 3.00
Kentucky 0.13 0.33 n/a n/a
Louisiana 0.04 1.00 n/a 0.40
Maine n/a n/a 0.58 3.50
Maryland 0.15 0.46 0.20 0.82
Massachusetts 0.14 1.00 n/a n/a
Michigan 0.14 0.56 n/a n/a
Minnesota 0.25 2.00 0.50 2.00
Mississippi 0.00 n/a 0.20 1.30
Missouri 0.05 n/a 0.30 1.25
Montana 0.16 1.25 n/a n/a
Nebraska 0.16 1.08 0.38 1.08
Nevada n/a n/a 0.25 5.15
New Hampshire 0.25 1.50 0.50 1.50
New Jersey 0.26 2.00 0.38 2.00
New Mexico 0.10 1.00 0.30 1.10
New York 0.10 0.33 Average 0.62
North Carolina 0.05 0.38 0.05 0.38
North Dakota 0.19 0.88 0.45 1.69
Ohio 0.10 0.17 0.21 1.23
Oklahoma 0.05 0.54 0.00 0.43
Oregon 0.05 0.47 0.05 0.47
Pennsylvania 0.19 1.00 0.19 0.42
Rhode Island 0.29 0.86 n/a n/a
South Carolina 0.00 0.00 0.35 1.80
South Dakota 0.25 0.38 0.25 0.25
Tennessee 0.17 0.75 n/a n/a
Texas 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00
Utah 0.40 n/a 0.60 1.75
Vermont 0.25 0.40 0.25 1.25
Virginia 0.27 0.45 0.55 0.80
Washington n/a 0.36 0.70 2.70
West Virginia 0.04 0.58 n/a n/a
Wisconsin 0.09 0.42 0.79 1.41
Wyoming 0.35 1.00 0.50 1.20
Federal Prisons 0.12 0.40 0.23 1.15
Average 0.14 0.63 0.33 1.41

What kinds of work do incarcerated people do?

Not everyone works in prison. Facilities face budget limitations and sometimes there is just not enough work to go around. But generally, correctional facilities assign incarcerated people to work as close to a regular day as possible. These work assignments fall into four broad categories, the first of which is by far the most common:

Not everyone works in prison. Facilities face budget limitations and sometimes there is just not enough work to go around. But generally, correctional facilities assign incarcerated people to work as close to a regular day as possible. These work assignments fall into four broad categories, the first of which is by far the most common:

  1. Regular prison jobs. These are directed by the Department of Corrections and support the prison facility. This category includes custodial, maintenance, laundry, grounds keeping, food service, and many other types of work. Sometimes called “facility,” “prison,” or “institutional support” jobs, these are the most common prison jobs.
  2. Jobs in state-owned businesses. Often called “Correctional Industries,” these businesses produce goods and provide services that are sold to government agencies. Correctional agencies and the businesses coordinate to operate these “shops,” and the revenues they generate help fund these positions. Agency-operated industries employ about 6% of people incarcerated in prisons.
  3. Jobs outside the facility. Work release programs, work camps, and community work centers provide services for public or nonprofit agencies. These programs are directed by the Department of Corrections, but sometimes community employers pay incarcerated workers’ wages. These jobs are typically reserved for people considered lower security risks, and/or those preparing to be released.
  4. Jobs in private businesses. A small number of incarcerated people work for businesses that contract with correctional agencies through the PIE program. This program allows private companies to operate within correctional facilities and provide job training and supervision. Companies must pay local “prevailing wages” for these jobs, but workers may only end up with a small portion of these wages; up to 80% of these earnings can be deducted for various fees.

One major surprise: prisons appear to be paying incarcerated people less today than they were in 2001. The average of the minimum daily wages paid to incarcerated workers for non-industry prison jobs is now 86 cents, down from 93 cents reported in 2001. The average maximum daily wage for the same prison jobs has declined more significantly, from $4.73 in 2001 to $3.45 today. What changed? At least seven states appear to have lowered their maximum wages, and South Carolina no longer pays wages for most regular prison jobs – assignments that paid up to $4.80 per day in 2001. With a few rare exceptions, regular prison jobs are still unpaid in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, and Texas.

Incarcerated people assigned to work for state-owned businesses earn between 33 cents and $1.41 per hour on average – roughly twice as much as people assigned to regular prison jobs. Only about 6 percent of people incarcerated in state prisons earn these “higher” wages, however. An even tinier portion of incarcerated workers are eligible for “prevailing local wages” working for private businesses that contract with states through the PIE program. The vast majority spend their days working in custodial, maintenance, grounds keeping, or food service jobs for the institutions that confine them.

The wages listed above do not include any deductions, which in reality often leave incarcerated workers with less than half of their gross pay. In Massachusetts, for example, at least half of each paycheck goes into a savings account to pay for expenses after release. “Any and all funds” can be used to pay court-assessed fines, court costs, victim witness assessments, etc. New Mexico deducts 15-50% of each paycheck for a Crime Victims Reparations Fund, discharge money, and family support. These policies arguably serve legitimate purposes, but such deductions also mean that $1 per day earned to make day-to-day life behind bars more bearable is really 50 cents (or even less).

The question of wages paid for prison labor is an important one, especially when we consider the relative costs of fees charged and things sold to incarcerated people. The value of a dollar is different when you earn pennies per hour. (And in six states, the wage is almost always zero pennies per hour.) In Colorado, for example, it costs an incarcerated woman two weeks’ wages to buy a box of tampons; maybe more if there’s a shortage. Saving up for a $10 phone card would take almost two weeks for an incarcerated person working in a Pennsylvania prison.

Making it hard for incarcerated people to earn real money hurts their chances of success when they are released, too. With little to no savings, how can they possibly afford the immediate costs of food, housing, healthcare, transportation, child support, and supervison fees? People with felony convictions are often ineligible for government benefit programs like welfare and food stamps, and face barriers to finding stable housing and employment. And they may leave prison with just a bus ticket and $50 of “gate money,” if they have no other savings. So the meager earnings from prison work assignments can be essential to a person’s success – and even survival – when they return to their community.

Most prison jobs teach incarcerated people very few skills relevant to the labor market they will rejoin upon release, so the wages they earn may be the only payoff they see. These perpetually low wages are especially frustrating when we consider the increasing expenses incarcerated people face, both inside and after release. Of course, raising wages is a tough sell politically, but policymakers and the public must acknowledge that almost everyone in prison will eventually be released. Their success and independence depends largely on financial stability, which is undermined by low wages, nickel-and-diming through “user fees,” mandatory deductions, and work that does little to prepare them for work outside of prisons. Forward-thinking policymakers must consider the importance of earnings and relevant job training for people they hope will be independent one day.

For details about each state’s wage policies, see the Appendix.

Updated April 28, 2017 with information from a new source on Oklahoma’s regular prison jobs (non-industry). Originally, I included information based on a DOC website statement that these jobs pay up to $20 per month. According to DOC policy, however, most pay between $7.23 and $14.45 per month, and the highest possible wage for “special project pay” is 54 cents per hour. The averages have been updated to reflect these changes as well.


Wendy Sawyer is the Prison Policy Initiative Research Director. (Other articles | Full bio | Contact)

13 responses:

  1. wolf sittler says:

    Low pay, or no pay, for prisoners does little to teach personal responsibility or any skills in money handling. While most “systems” have idealistic goals, the reality often lags far behind. Last October, five Texas prisoners released the “Responsible Prison Project”…….a thoughtful and comprehensive look at some Texas prison conditions along with recommendations for improvement. They note how the fact that since prison conditions rarely mirror life on the outside, that preparation for release leaves much to be desired. If you get paid nothing, it’s all to easy to engage in black market activity to satisfy desires.


    THEY are getting a place to stay and food all of which i have to work to pay for. people in prison are there for crimes and should work for the roof over their heads and the food they get. nothing else should be paid to them

  3. We recently alleged a violation of the FLSA for work my client did as a teaching assistant/tutor at a prison in Indiana. He was being paid $0.25 per hour. Besides being bad for the prisoner, we thought this was also taking a typical over-minimum wage paying job of a non-incarcerated person.

    You can read about the case, which was dismissed unfortunately on summary judgment, here:

  4. Rick Stewart says:

    William Eckman – what is the purpose of incarceration in the first place?

    Is it punishment (as in vengence – you did something bad to us so we are going to do something bad to you), containment (when you are locked up you won’t be able to kill anyone else), deterrence (stop anyone else from doing what you did, and stop you from doing it again when you are released), or rehabilitation (you are a person who interracted poorly with society, we need to get you back on board the train with everyone else as quickly as possible, but we feel a little re-training is necessary first)?

    To me vengence is just ignorant, as it gets me nothing and costs me a lot, both in cash and in the ability to sleep at night.

    Containment is also expensive, but serves a useful purpose.

    Deterence makes perfect sense, so long as it works. This is an empirical question and we should ignore emotional appeals. We will never be 100% successful but we should be measuring costs and benefits rigorously, and act accordingly.

    Rehabilitation makes the most sense of all to me. Not ‘at any cost,’ but taking into account all that is to be gained from taking people who have harmed society and turning them into productive, law abiding, and tax-paying citizens.

    Given these possibilities, you may be correct – there is no need to pay a vicious unrepentent killer her 27 cents an hour (in Iowa, where I live).

    To refuse to pay more than that to a Drug War victim seems crazy. It would be free to society not to imprison them in the first place, but if politicians and misinformed voters can’t live with that can’t we at least minimize the expense of doing so while maximizing the chances they will pay a lot of taxes after they get out?

  5. John says:

    “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

    13th Amendment

  6. Andrew says:

    I am an ex con. I have heard many people speaking about how inmates are paid and they complain about it. I just want to tell you that being an inmate’s not easy and you think that we don’t do anything. I think you’re wrong. Where do you think that half of the stuff that is built in your office comes from take a look real real close you’ll see most of the time it’s from a correctional facility and Industry. I know you guys have problems with ex-cons and with the way that we do things. Recidivism rates in this country are too high because this country depends too much on punishment and not on Rehabilitation like other countries. I hope you understand where I’m coming from I’m tired of hearing all of this complaining about prisoners being paid in prison how else do you expect us to survive on the outside when you don’t take this responsibility on the in.

  7. Antoine says:

    Why should they work for free? They should lay around all day and do nothing if they aren’t getting paid. They are not slaves, they are incarcerated. Would you like to kill all the people in prison – because they are criminals?

    Goodness man, they are in prison, not slaves. Minimum wage should apply.

  8. Antoine says:

    John, these people are not sentenced to hard labor, they are sentenced to prison

  9. Misti says:

    I called my state’s Medicaid customer service line to get more information on what Medicaid covers for my child’s eyeglasses.

    I learned that inmates are fabricating the glasses for Medicaid and earn $2 a week to do this.

    As grateful as I am for my child to have glasses with no direct out-of-pocket cost to me, I am conflicted that the item was created with slave labor.

    Walls of the optical store were lined with stylish glasses costing up to $300/pair, but my child has the “privilege” to choose a pair in a drawer made by an servant of the state. Granted, the glasses that lined the walls could have also been made by servants in another country. But the drawer had glasses made by servants of my own.

    My heart is heavy for the situation and my mind is racing wondering about the legality. Do the inmates have options? Do they at least get a educational or trade certificate to boast of their skills?

    Mind blowing that anyone thinks this situation is part of their retribution when it’s so clearly taking advantage of a person’s circumstance.

  10. Carlos says:

    What you say makes sense. Why make it more expensive on the taxpayer to house the 3 million men, women and children who are incacerated?
    Well, let’s look at some facts and see if investing more money on the frontend might save us a nice piece of change, once folks, who are incacerated, get released:
    1. In New York, it costs taxpayers $68,000/ yr.
    to house one person in prison. Most folks who are incacerated will eventually be released. Do we as taxpayers, want people returning from prison who are fully prepared to become productive citizens or do we want folks in our communities who are uneducated and so poor that they may be forced to commit crimes just to eat? If any of you folks have ever been hungry or homeless, you would know how desperate circumstances lead folks to do really desperate and dumb shit.

    Its no wonder that almost 7 out of ten people who are released return back within 3 years.

    Our taxpayer paid carceral system prepares our returning citizens to fail. Thus, by investing less on the front end and affording incacerated folks the bare minimum, taxpayers wind up paying a huge toll on the back end.

    2. The wages paid to folks who are incacerated are based upon archaic slavery policies. The 13th Amend. has allowed slavery to continue to exist as an insitution through our carceral system. Allowing folks to be paid 10cents/ hr, sends a clear and resounding message that slavery is a good thing; as long as it is restricted to a certain demographic. Slavery has no place in our world and we must all seek to abolish it, no matter the form it takes.

    3. Studies have shown that incacerated folks who receive the most support, in the form of education, mental health, substance abuse, health care, etc., tend to lead productive, law abiding lives upon release. Those are the outcomes that we must all invest in. While it may be more expensive on the front, the dividends our investments pays off, on the back end, far exceeds our initial costs.

    4. What should our prisons do; simply cage people convicted of committing crimes or help them heal and become productive members of society? Our taxpayer dollars funds the prison industrial complex. What impact do we want our dollars to have?

  11. PeenieSlayer27 says:

    We recently alleged a violation of the FLSA for work my client did as a teaching assistant/tutor at a prison in Indiana. He was being paid $0.25 per hour. Besides being bad for the prisoner, we thought this was also taking a typical over-minimum wage paying job of a non-incarcerated person.

    You can read about the case, which was dismissed unfortunately on summary judgment, here:

  12. Kimberly Bolding says:

    I have been a parent of a child or two in prison. As a parent I tried everything I can possibly do to keep my loved ones up to date on the outside news kept up with minimal hygiene supplies and other comforts as my income allows and most important remaining in contact with their babies and helping them know they are loved.
    for my years of experience I learned that it is not the guilty who are paying for the restitution but rather their loved ones. The amount of income Department of corrections it’s very little. This is true especially in comparison to the amount it cost to purchase hygiene supplies telephone minutes and even stamps for communication purposes.
    I found it quite irritating on my behalf that in order to hear my loved ones voice and to get some sense of a surety that my child was doing all right I was required to pay extra fees to cover their restitution sometimes I was barely making it financially and the extra cost with very stressful on me. I also believe the fact I was paying your restitution on them. I just wanted to make this point overt. I do not believe people realize how much other stress and responsibility defaults upon the inmates loved ones.

  13. Jimmy Joe Wade says:

    I would like to correct a misconception about Texas prisons. Individuals within TDC (now TDCJ) do not nor have they ever received and monetary compensation for working in the TCI Industry, kitchen, laundry, fields, or the hallway as a janitor, they receive ZERO cents from the state for their labor. How do I know this, you may ask, simple I spent 25 years and 8 months of my life in TDC. I went down in 1987 when I was 20 and got out January 22 2013, so I know for a fact that TDC does not pay the inmates for labor done, and “if” you refuse to work you get wrote up for it and lose good time and work time credits, which you never get back, that are supposed to be applied towards you sentence. SO before any says that Texas pays their inmates, you need to do the research first. This state will never pay its inmates for labor, inmates are the new cash crop, now that the oil and cattle industry is dying.

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