The Political Economy of Prison Labour: From Penal Welfarism to the Penal State

  • Christoph Scherrer University of Kassel
  • Anil Shah University of Kassel


The article traces the return of prison labour for commercial purposes in the United States. In the age of Fordism, work for commercial purposes was prohibited in prisons; the emphasis was on rehabilitation. This “penal welfarism” gave way to a “penal state” of extremely high incarceration rates and exploitative prison labour. While this shift mirrors the turn to neo-liberalism, it is also the result of specific labour market conditions and racial discrimination.

Author Biography

Christoph Scherrer, University of Kassel

Professor for Globalization and Politics in the Social Science Department of the University of Kassel

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