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Originally Posted by WikipediaThe 13th Amendment of the American Constitution in 1865 explicitly allows penal labour as it states that "neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for a crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction." Unconvicted detainees awaiting trial cannot be forced to participate in forced rehabilitative labor programs in prison as it violates the Thirteenth Amendment. However the "convict lease" system became popular in the South in the late 19th century. Since the impoverished state governments could not afford penitentiaries, they leased out prisoners to work at private firms. According to Douglas A. Blackmon, it was Southern policy to intimidate blacks; tens of thousands of African Americans were arbitrarily arrested and leased to coal mines, lumber camps, brickyards, railroads, quarries and farm plantations. The state governments maximized profits by putting the responsibility on the lessee to provide food, clothing, shelter, and medical care for the prisoners, which resulted in extremely poor conditions, numerous deaths, and perhaps the most inhumane system of labour in the United States. Reformers abolished convict lease in the Progressive Era, stopping the system in Florida in 1919. The last state to abolish the practice was Alabama in 1927.
In 1934, however, federal prison officials concerned about growing unrest in prisons lobbied to create a work program. Companies got involved again in 1979, when Congress passed a law allowing them to hire prisoners in some circumstances.
Penal labour is sometimes used as a punishment in the U.S. military. Penal labor is not required in the United States, but refusal to work normally results in the inmate receiving less food, a longer sentence, or other sactions.