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Thousands of prison inmates in several states have been protesting since Sept. 9 against what they claim are barbaric prison conditions, including the obligation to do low paid jobs.

Hack activists have raised the specter of slavery because a lot of prisoners are black. One’s heart does not bleed for their cause. Prisoners capable of work should be required to do so. Prison is a punishment, and is supposed to be sufficiently unpleasant that it deters future law breaking.

Nearly a million of America’s 2.4 million prisoners work in the slammer, often for tiny sums of less than a dollar an hour, and sometimes for no pay at all. There is no compelling principle that they should be paid more. But there are still good reasons, in practice, why lawmakers should consider doing so.

Earned success fulfills people. Work is an essential component of human flourishing not only for what it produces but also for its moral effect on the worker. Prison jobs should therefore be incentivized, perhaps by being remunerated with more than trivial pay.

One study found that more than two-thirds of criminals who had done their time remained jobless a year after their release. Those who work improve their chances of finding jobs and contributing to society once they’re free. Studies have shown that working can help improve self-confidence, provide structure to prioners’ lives, and give them a reason to stay out of prison once they get out. Prison jobs can reduce recidivism and its social and financial costs.

Most prisoners have families to support. One study found fines and fees on prisoners produced average debts of more than $13,000. This burden often falls on prisoners’ families.

A 2015 study found that nearly half the families of convicted criminals could pay the costs associated with conviction. Another study found that the cost of staying in contact could be overwhelming. More than a third of the families of prisoners fell into debt simply paying for phone calls and visits.

Activists demand that prisoners be paid the federal minimum wage and the right to unionize. This is ridiculous; prisoners are not employees with negotiating rights. They are wards of the state who have committed crimes and must pay a debt to society. In many cases their victims have to keep working to support themselves. It’s hard to justify the idea that those who wronged them can win tax-funded idleness in exchange for preying on others.

But paying prisoners so they can both acquire the habit of endeavor and earned success, and help support their families in civilian life should be seriously considered.

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