It's something that is often satirized in TV and movies: prison inmates making license plates while incarcerated. Truth is, inmates, make a lot more just the plates, they actually make a lot of different items, and, in Iowa, they are paid for their labor.

But it's how much, or a little more specifically, that has the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) calling out not only Iowa lawmakers but all lawmakers.

The ACLU begins the report by saying,

The report calls for far-reaching reforms to ensure prison labor is truly voluntary and that incarcerated workers are paid fairly, properly trained, and able to gain transferable skills.

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The ACLU put out a comprehensive list of what each state's inmates are paid for their work. Their findings concluded Iowa inmates make anywhere from 28 to 95 cents an hour.

The ACLU also noted that Iowa is one of 20 U.S. states where the language in our constitutions excludes people convicted of a crime from the ban on slavery and involuntary servitude. Meaning, that according to interpretation, one could consider an inmate essentially a state slave. Again, this is open to each person's own interpretation.

How does Iowa compare to other states?

Iowa is on the lower side of prisoner pay. The same report shows Nebraksa pays its inmates between $1.21 and $4.72 per day which breaks down to between $0.38 and $1.50 per hour. Minnesota pays between 25 cents and one dollar an hour while Illinois pays $0.85 to $2.50 per day which could be more or less than Iowa, depending on the number of hours worked.

Photo by Larry Farr on Unsplash
Photo by Larry Farr on Unsplash
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In addition to the report on pay, the ACLU also listed the Iowa companies that rely on prison labor to make their products.

  • Game One in Carroll
  • H&H, LLC in Clarinda
  • Lomont Molding in Mount Pleasant
  • PDM Precast in Des Moines
  • Quantum Plastics in Victor

It should be noted that when it comes to inmate pay, some states, including Arkansas and Georgia, do not pay inmates anything.

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