Bloody Lucre: Carceral Labor and Prison Profit

58 Pages Posted: 27 Oct 2021

See all articles by Laura I Appleman

Laura I Appleman

Willamette University College of Law

Date Written: August 13, 2021


The pursuit of profit is inextricably intertwined with America’s system of carceral labor and criminal punishment. Along with the institution of slavery, the harnessing of involuntary carceral labor yielded enormous proceeds through transformation of human toil into financial gain. Profit incentives have exerted a profound influence on the shape of American carceral labor. From 16th-century British convict transportation to 21st-century private corrections companies, profitable returns from involuntary carceral servitude have been an important feature of criminal punishment.

This Article traces the coruscating power of the private profit motive within the criminal justice system, one of the first to chart the ways this focus on revenues has shaped the forced toil of those under correctional control. By thoroughly evaluating our carceral history, and dissecting the financial currents that have shaped the many forms of involuntary inmate servitude, we will be better able to disentangle how money has influenced and warped our system into one of mass incarceration. Moreover, a full understanding of our carceral past could help us begin to rechart the course of modern criminal justice, eliminating this kind of involuntary servitude in our system.

Keywords: carceral labor, involuntary servitude, prison profit, mass incarceration, criminal punishment, history of imprisonment

Suggested Citation

Appleman, Laura I, Bloody Lucre: Carceral Labor and Prison Profit (August 13, 2021). Wisconsin Law Review, Vol. 2022, No. 3, 2022 Forthcoming, Available at SSRN: or

Laura I Appleman (Contact Author)

Willamette University College of Law ( email )

245 Winter St. SE
Salem, OR 97301
United States
(503) 370-6651 (Phone)

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