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Budget plan includes wage hike for incarcerated people working prison jobs


Budget plan includes wage hike for incarcerated people working prison jobs

Mar 30, 2023 | 6:45 am ET
By Dana DiFilippo
Budget plan includes wage hike for incarcerated people working prison jobs
People incarcerated in New Jersey would get a "modest increase" for the prison jobs they work, under the governor's budget plan. (Dana DiFilippo | New Jersey Monitor)

People serving time in state prisons could see the salaries of their jailhouse jobs climb — the first across-the-board prison pay raises in New Jersey in decades — under Gov. Phil Murphy’s $53.1 billion budget proposal.

The budget plan calls for “a modest increase to the wages they can earn for positive behavior and productive work” but doesn’t specify an amount.

Department of Corrections spokeswoman Amy Z. Quinn confirmed “a modest across-the-board increase” plan, but she and Murphy spokeswoman Tyler Jones also declined to specify how much. 

Jones said incarcerated people rehabilitating their lives by building job skills and maintaining routines “should be recognized.”

“Increased wages for incarcerated persons would not only give them added financial security to assist in their rehabilitation process, but would also set them up for success post-incarceration, lowering the chances of recidivism,” Jones said.

More than 13,000 people are serving time in state prisons, and they have to work, with few exceptions. There are all sorts of jobs available behind bars, ranging from kitchen, laundry, library, and barber workers to medical porters, paralegals, painters, and clerks.

Prison pay ranges from $1 to $7 a day, but most positions pay $1 to $3 a day, with paraprofessional and skilled-trades jobs topping the pay scale, according to Department of Corrections data.

Those wages haven’t changed since at least 2001, with the current pay scale standards established in the early 1990s. At the same time, commissary prices have climbed as inflation has soared, sparking outcry from incarcerated people and advocates who say the widening gulf between pay and commissary prices leaves some struggling to afford even basic necessities.

Nationally, incarcerated people work for pennies per hour, while some states pay them nothing at all. Yet they produce more than $2 billion a year in goods and more than $9 billion a year in services for prison maintenance, leaving critics to liken their situation to slavery or forced servitude, according to a study last year by the American Civil Liberties Union.