Life in Incarceration

Article by Maya

Edited by Ronny and Audrey

Incarceration is one of the most harrowing, dangerous, and difficult times in a prisoner's life. It disrupts someone’s life not only when they are in prison, but also when they are released, influencing what jobs they can have, resources they can obtain (such as insurance), and even whether they can vote. While incarcerated, however, life is especially difficult. Luckily, there are some policies that the United States holds, as well as individual prisons, that are designed to make this sentence more bearable and to prepare prisoners for returning to normal life. 


Education serves two purposes within the prison system; it allows for a new experience for inmates and helps them break up their mundane reality, and also decreases the likelihood that prisoners will reoffend once released. Generally, two types of programs are offered in a prison. Those who have not completed high school are often encouraged to receive their GED before receiving their bachelor’s degree, and prisoners will often receive both while incarcerated. According to the Institute of Higher Education Policy, those who participate in college level courses while incarcerated are 46% less likely to reoffend than those who do not.

Having a college degree also makes returning to life easier once out of prison, especially in terms of finding a job. This degree makes applicants far more competitive, and shows employers that, even while in prison, the applicant took having a stable job soon after being released from prison makes those released less likely to reoffend and allows for them to have an easier transition back to normal life. 

Not only does prison education positively impact the individual, but the prison as a whole. According to the Prison Studies Project, incarcerated people enrolled in college-level classes are 75% less likely to receive infractions for violent actions.


The majority of prisons have some sort of job available for those incarcerated. The jobs vary greatly across prisons, and really depend on where a person is sent. Often, there are two types of jobs that are taken on when incarcerated—work inside of the prison, such as a janitor or crisis counselor, or work outside of the prison, such as work for private companies or manufacturing jobs. Those outside of the prison are often hosted by the Prison Industry Enhancement Certification Program (PIECP). PIECP is a government-funded program that allows inmates to work for hands on manufacturing or construction roles. If someone is able to leave prison with money saved, they are more likely to be able to afford housing, food, and insurance.

Work inside of prison is the most common form of prison labor, as well as the lowest wage service done for the prison, consisting of everything from groundskeeping and janitorial staff to food service and, in some cases, crisis counseling. According to Bustle, the average wages per hour for these roles range from around $0.14 to $0.63. However, in eight states (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Texas) government-funded prisons are legally allowed to not pay their inmates for this labor. 

Work for outside employers, often private sectors, are generally managed by the Prison Industry Enhancement Certification Program (PIECP). Although these wages are higher than those found within the prison system (ranging from $0.33 to $1.41 per hour), this program is not very common. Only 37 of the country’s 1833 state funded prisons have this program as an option. 

The wages initially allotted to inmates, however, do not always reflect what they are given in the long run. It is legal for prisoners to take money out of their own bank account for any reason they desire. This often ranges from court costs to fines, and the prisoner’s consent is not needed for this to happen. Prisons may charge up for items sold as well, forcing prisoners to spend a two-week wage on something as essential as tampons, according to The Politic. 


When one is put into incarceration, a lot of their rights are taken away. Some are more personal, such as the right to use a toilet in private, while other are more legal, such as the right to vote. 

While incarcerated, prisoners lose many of the personal rights that may not even be considered by those outside of the prison system. According to The Hidden Sentence, these include the right to use the toilet in private, send and receive mail without it being searched, and even to pull a blanket over your head while sleeping. This dehumanizes prisoners, making them feel “less than”.

While incarcerated, inmates are not allowed to vote in any elections. Once a prisoner is released from jail, they still are not allowed to vote until they are off parole. According to Prison Insight, they then must petition for the right to vote - if approved, their right to vote is reinstated. For many, this is too much of a hassle, meaning that they never will re-register.

Incarceration is not only a traumatic experience, but one that impacts a person throughout their life. Those in incarceration lose many rights, and may not be able to regain them once they have left the prison system. 


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