Wisconsin County to Offer 'Living Wage' - for Jail Inmate Workers?

Monica Sanchez | February 25, 2015
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Dane County, WI seeks to ensure their prisoners earn a living wage while in custody.

In their ordinance amendment, the Board of County Supervisors writes,

“This amendment requires that a living wage be paid to any inmate of the Dane County Jail who provides services to others.”

“Inmate worker means any person in the custody of Dane County who provides services to Dane County similar to a job, including but not limited to laundry and food service.”

Here's a copy of the proposal below: 


In anticipation of changes to the county’s budget, Board Supervisor John Hendrick promoted the ordinance in a Feb. 2015 report:

Another change in the Executive Budget will terminate a contract for living wage jobs providing laundry service to the jail and transfer the work to jail inmates for little or no pay,” he explains. “I support an ordinance amendment to guarantee a living wage for jail inmate workers.”

Prisoners upon release owe a certain amount in restitution, dependent upon the length of sentence, type and impact or "harm" of crime. Earning a living wage while in prison would help ex-offenders pay their dues and move on from their wrongdoings to becoming prosperous members of the community.

In Dane County, the living wage for an adult, or the hourly rate that an individual must earn to support his or her family, is an estimated $9.54. The amount increases with a spouse and/or child. 

According to PrisonPolicy.org, for non-industry work (e.g. jail laundry, food services),

  • The average of the minimum wages for prisoners paid by the states, in dollars per day, is $0.93.
  • The average of the maximum wages paid to prisoners by the states, in dollars per day, is $4.73.

Most prisons that pay prisoners for work have a range of pay depending on the job. Some prisons don’t pay their inmate workers, period.

In Georgia and Texas, for example, the maximum wage paid to prisoners in dollars per day is $0. 

Whether such an amendment to guarantee inmates a living wage would pass is doubtful, with prison costs in the U.S. already sky-high on the local, state, and federal levels.