Incarcerated people need jobs for the same reason everyone else does: money.
“There is an outrageous amount of fines associated with being incarcerated,” says Lindsey Feldman, an anthropologist at the University of Memphis who studies prisons. “The vast majority of folks coming out of prison are significantly in debt. Saving up money is a goal that a lot of people have while they’re in, but that’s real tough when you’re getting paid a nickel or a dime an hour.”
That’s true even if you land a job working for an outside corporation that is legally required to pay minimum wage. “You can take it all back with charges for things like room and board or victim restitution,” says Thompson. “Minimum wage is a mythology.”
Still, missing out on any money that could chip away at those debts is a significant loss.