Abolition Labor: The Fight Against Prison Slavery

Regular price $ 19.95

by Andrew Ross, Tommaso Bardelli, and Aiyuba Thomas

OR Books

6/25/2024, paperback

SKU: 9781682193983


Abolition Labor chronicles the national movement to end forced labor, much of it unpaid, in American prisons. It draws on interviews with formerly incarcerated persons in Alabama, Texas, Georgia and New York to give a more holistic picture of these work conditions, and it covers the new prisoner rights movement that began with system-wide work strikes involving more than 50,000 people in the 2010s.

Incarcerated people work for penny wages (15 cents an hour is not unusual), and, in several states, for nothing at all, as cooks, dishwashers, janitors, groundskeepers, barbers, painters, or plumbers; in laundries, kitchens, factories, and hospitals. They provide vital public services such as repairing roads, fighting wildfires, or clearing debris after hurricanes. They manufacture products like office furniture, mattresses, license plates, dentures, glasses, traffic signs, garbage cans, athletic equipment, and uniforms. And they harvest crops, work as welders and carpenters, and labor in meat and poultry processing plants.

Abolition Labor provides a wealth of insights into what has become a vast underground economy. It draws connections between the risky trade forced on prisoners who hustle to survive on the inside and the precarious economy on the outside. And it argues that, far from being quarantined off from society, prisons and their forced work regime have a sizable impact on the economic and social lives of millions of American households.


"This is an essential guide for those who want to abolish the last vestiges of legal slavery in the US and build a world without prisons." -- Alex Vitale, author of The End of Policing

"Through the voices and analyses of imprisoned workers themselves... makes a powerful case that abolition is a labor question." -- Robin D.G. Kelley, author of numerous books, including Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination

"This is a startling--and often inspiring--account of the pernicious persistence of prison slavery. It is that rare book which will galvanize a reform movement and, therefore, make for a better world." -- Gerald Horne, author of more than thirty books, including: The Dawning of the Apocalypse: The Roots of Slavery, White Supremacy, Settler Colonialism, and Capitalism in the Long Sixteenth Century, Confronting Black JacobinsFacing the Rising Sun, and The Apocalypse of Settler Colonialism

About the Authors:

Andrew Ross is a social activist and Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis at NYU, where he also directs the Prison Research Lab. A contributor to the Guardian, the New York Times, The Nation, and Al Jazeera, he is the author or editor of more than twenty-five books, including, most recently, Cars and Jails: Freedom Dreams, Debt, and Carcerality.

Tommaso Bardelli is a Research Fellow at the NYU Prison Education Program Research Lab, where he conducts research on mass incarceration, financial debt, and their intersections. He holds a PhD in Political Science from Yale University.

Aiyuba Thomas is a recent MA graduate from NYU's Gallatin School of Individualized Study, and a justice impacted affiliate of the NYU Prison Research Lab. He is currently the project manager for "Movements Against Mass Incarceration," an archival oral history project at Columbia University.