Gordon Lafer is an assistant professor at the University of Oregon's Labor Education and Research Center and is a member of the national Coordinating Committee of Scholars, Artists, and Writers for Social Justice.
When most of us think of convicts at work, we picture them banging out license plates or digging ditches. Those images, however, are now far too limited to encompass the great range of jobs that America's prison workforce is performing. If you book a flight on TWA, you'll likely be talking to a prisoner at a California correctional facility that the airline uses for its reservations service. Microsoft has used Washington State prisoners to pack and ship Windows software. AT&T has used prisoners for telemarketing; Honda, for manufacturing parts; and even Toys "R" Us, for cleaning and stocking shelves for the next day's customers.