Raising the Wage: Reform Through Increased Pay in Prison

Raising the Wage: Reform Through Increased Pay in Prison


Prison is big business. Billions of dollars in revenue are generated by both the private prison industry and the labor of individuals who are incarcerated. From desks to textiles, a complex web of manufacturing is produced each day in New York Prisons—in fact, every New York license plate is created by an individual with justice involvement.

Though their work results in billions of dollars, individuals with justice involvement receive literal pennies in return. Just ask Lymus Rivera, a group facilitator at The Fortune Society:

“The highest earning level I ever reached while incarcerated was Grade Four—$0.16 per hour! I worked six hours per day, five days per week.”

A proposed state legislation, The Prison Minimum Wage Act, seeks to undo the unjust consequences of such low wages. In support of this act, Lymus, along with Fortune President and CEO JoAnne Page, gave remarks on the day of its public announcement. Learn more about this transformative act, which would ensure that every individual who is incarcerated at New York State receives at least $3.00 an hour for their work, from an edited version of Lymus’ remarks below. 

In prison, I specialized in facilitating peer groups for relapse prevention, aggression replacement training, and reentry transition. I also worked as part of the Youth Assistance Program, speaking with at-risk young adults about consequential thinking. Perhaps my favorite responsibility that lasted 24 hours per day, however, was as a trainer in the Puppies Behind Bars Program. I trained puppies to be service dogs for veterans that served our country. 

The highest earning level I ever reached while incarcerated was Grade Four—16 cents an hour! I worked six hours per day, five days per work. 

Had The Prison Minimum Wage Act been in effect while I was incarcerated, earning $3 would’ve been a huge step in the right direction for me—I would’ve had the opportunity to earn $90 per week!

Being able to earn $90 a week to buy stamps to write letters, make longer phone calls, buy essentials, and afford small luxuries would have meant my family didn’t need to send me any money.

Lymus River and his daughter

This bill will help incarcerated people maintain connections to people they care about in the community without putting the responsibility of paying onto anyone else. This bill also creates the ability for people currently incarcerated to work for non-profit agencies under supervision.

This is a critical program that must be offered to as many people as possible, especially to people housed in a transition-out facility where there are almost no industry-paid work programs right before release, when people need money the most.

I secured employment with The Fortune Society six months after being released, so this opportunity would’ve been priceless for me. The opportunity to work in the community would’ve provided me with more updated, transferrable skills than what I was being offered inside. I would’ve been able to network with prospective employers.

The hours I could’ve spent facilitating groups in the community would have counted toward my CASAC-T certification and I would have earned it faster than I did now. But, more important to me than all of those things, I would have felt less stigmatized and ostracized by society. It would’ve made coming home that much easier.

I consider myself blessed. I have an incredible, supportive partner, am a loving parent to a 2 year old and 6 year old, and love my job. I am pursuing my bachelor’s degree in Human Services at Boricua College, and I strive to be a better version of myself every day.

I hope with the support of everyone in Albany that The Prison Minimum Wage Act will pass.

*Article by Root Stitches LLC

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