When Your Prison Becomes Your Paycheck

The Marshall Project

By Maurica Chammah and Joseph Neff

In 2010, Cindy Stubbs was nearing the end of a 14-year sentence in a South Carolina prison, determined never to return. A mother of four, locked up on gun and drug trafficking charges since she was 34, Stubbs worked inside the prison translating textbooks to Braille. Three months before her release, she caught a break: a telephone interview at another Braille plant, in North Carolina, led to a job offer.

But there was a catch. This plant was also in a prison. She’d be managing prisoners, returning every weekday to exactly the sort of place she’d spent years waiting to leave.

“At the beginning, it wasn’t easy,” said Stubbs, now 55. “Some people in society feel when someone is able to come out of prison and make a good salary and a good position, they don’t feel like you are deserving of it.”

She is one of a small number of former prisoners who have returned to penitentiaries as employees after their release. At least 30 states have policies to allow such hiring, though they do not necessarily track how many they have brought aboard. But a few agencies are beginning to formalize programs, with the explicit goal of reducing the stigma that can follow ex-prisoners as they look for jobs.

In December, a new law began allowing the Michigan Department of Corrections to hire those it has released, after the agency openly promoted the idea.

“We knew that as we were going out every day talking to the business community and asking them to hire our parolees, that it would be hypocritical if we wouldn’t hire them ourselves,” DOC spokesman Chris Gautz said.

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