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The Modern Chain Gang: How Convict Leasing Can Help Repair the California Prison System

46 Pages Posted: 13 Sep 2013 Last revised: 29 May 2014

Ryan Minarovich

Santa Clara University School of Law

Date Written: September 11, 2013


Inmates who work while incarcerated are less likely to succumb to the common negative effects of prison life both during their incarceration and after their release. Both the federal government and California, which have inmate labor programs already in place, realize the benefits and importance of inmate labor to the government, the individual inmate, prisons systems, and society. Labor as a means to reform served as the backbone of early private prison labor programs. These programs were vastly successful until opposition from organized labor caused their dissolution. This article proposes a regulated and humane return to the convict leasing system. Because the private sector cannot currently utilize the benefits of inmate labor, using laws, regulations, and doctrine from both private prisons and labor, I propose a cooperation program between private industry and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). This program will see private companies permanently house, secure, and care for inmates who produce goods or services for the companies on-site, or transport inmates between the prisons and the production facilities and secure and care for inmates who are in their custody while paying the state a fee for each inmate assigned a position with the company. This system will help defray the per inmate cost to the California prison system by requiring private industry to internalize inmate expenses while in their care and will also secure a recurring revenue stream for the CDCR while adhering to current political, cultural, societal, and legal standards that will insulate inmates from the problems of early convict leasing systems and current private prisons.

Keywords: Inmates, Prison, Prison Labor, Chain Gang, CDCR, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Private Prison Industries, FPI, UNICOR, Convict Leasing, Inmate Leasing

JEL Classification: A12, B25, D61, D4, J2, J3, J4, J5, K00, K1, K23, K31, K32, L00, L1, L2, L5, L4, L6, L7, L8, N3, N4

Suggested Citation

Minarovich, Ryan, The Modern Chain Gang: How Convict Leasing Can Help Repair the California Prison System (September 11, 2013). Available at SSRN: or

Ryan Minarovich (Contact Author)

Santa Clara University School of Law ( email )

500 El Camino Real
Santa Clara, CA 95053
United States

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