Paul L. Caron

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

McMahon: Taxing Prison Work

Stephanie Hunter McMahon (Cincinnati), Prison Work Is Taxing and Should Be Taxed, 176 Tax Notes Fed. 1585 (Sept. 5, 2022):

Tax Notes Federal (2022)In this article, McMahon advocates for Congress to enact when possible, and otherwise to push for, an expansion of the social safety net for prison labor on terms consistent with that for non-incarcerated workers, taking into account the prison context.

Extending benefits to incarcerated workers may be politically tricky, but it is the right thing to do. It remains the right thing even as it raises government revenue. Inmates who work contribute to society in much the same way as non-incarcerated workers. Recognition of that contribution ensures the social safety net is fair to all workers and their dependents. These changes also create a floor for incarcerated workers as for other American workers, and they often need it. Those formerly incarcerated have fewer future employment opportunities, with their pre-pandemic unemployment estimated to be over 27 percent, significantly higher than for the never incarcerated. In the first few years after release, nearly 50 percent reported no earnings, and among those that did, half made less than $10,090 per year. Despite their crimes, these workers are in great need of the protection that the social safety net is intended to provide.

Throughout this article, you may have noticed I did not raise the issue of race. For those who are interested, I have done so in other articles. The need for these changes is not solely because, as of 2020, the American criminal justice system incarcerates almost 2.3 million people, and despite Black Americans’ making up 13 percent of U.S. residents, they make up 40 percent of those incarcerated. That the system is racially disparate only increases the need to make it fairer. The changes advocated in this article would only minimally reduce the racial injustice of mass incarceration and should be made even if the criminal justice system were made racially just.

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